Websites Teach Kids Financial Literacy
These days most parents would welcome a little advice about short-term budgeting and long-term planning. Even parents who have a knack for financial management often fail to teach kids these skills. One survey by Charles Schwab found parents would rather talk to kids about sex than about balancing a budget.
Fortunately, there are some online tools that make the task easier. A number of Web sites offer simulation games and other tools that allow kids to explore different ways of handling money without the heartbreak that comes from having wasted all your money on something you didn't need or even want. Here are some places to start, broken down by age:
Once children start school, they need to know a little bit about how to use — and save — money. These two sites explain the fundamentals.
Planet Orange (www.orangekids.com) is a lively game site where kids blast off to colorful environments to take on interactive challenges that help them understand earning, spending, saving and investing. Kids will enjoy the site because they can customize the characters and spaceships; parents will like the password and privacy policies.
The Great Piggy Bank Adventure (http://piggybank.disney.go.com) is a virtual board game that helps kids "make their dreams come true" by setting financial goals. The clever and colorful game is produced by Disney in cooperation with T. Rowe Price. It's complex enough to need a strategy guide, so you may want to play with your child. Kids can compete with (but not interact with) other players.
In middle school, kids become very aware of their peers and interested in consuming what their peers consume. This is an ideal time to start talking about the difference between wants and needs — and how companies use marketing and advertising to manipulate them.
Don't Buy It (www.pbskids.org/dontbuyit) is a fast-paced Web site that gives kids insight into the techniques companies use to manipulate them into buying products. One game, called The Cost of Cool, shows side-by-side pictures of two outfits and challenges kids to distinguish between the expensive designer brands and less-expensive alternatives. It's an effective way to teach kids that they really can get the look they want for less.
The Virtual Mall (www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/youarehere/site.html#/the-food-court) helps kids think through the economics behind some of the choices they face while shopping. At the virtual Food Court, kids learn about competition by trying to decide which of several pizza parlors to patronize. Another section of the site alerts kids to scams that target young people such as bogus modeling agencies or "free" products which aren't actually free.
Reality Check (www.jumpstart.org/realitycheck) asks visitors to fill out a questionnaire about the expenses they expect to have when they live on their own. Children have to decide, for example, whether to subscribe to cable TV and, if they do, should they get the movie channel? After kids have answered the questions, the site tells them what kind of job and income they'll need to support the lifestyle they've chosen. It can be a real eye opener!
Many high schools now include interactive lessons about financial management in their curriculum. If yours doesn't, look into these Web sites.
Financial Football (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/games) is one of several games designed by Visa to help teens understand the vocabulary and concepts they'll need to manage their financial lives. After choosing a team, a player advances down the field by answering quiz questions. Competitive versions of the game are available, as is a simulation featuring soccer instead of football.
The Stock Market Game (www.stockmarketgame.org) allows kids to experience the ups and downs of investing through a stock market simulation. Students start with $100,000, create a portfolio and compete against other student teams. To get your student (or school) involved, find your state's coordinator under the Registration tab.
Money U (www.moneyu.com) is designed for college-bound students. For $15, your student gets access to 120 short interactive lessons that will help him or her get a grip on everything from banking to credit cards, taxes to insurance.
Finally, if you think your own financial skills could use a tune-up, you might want to browse the clearinghouse of informative articles created by Jump$tart, one of the sponsors of April's financial literacy month (www.jumpstart.org/search.cfm). Or commit the entire month of April to a full financial makeover by following the 30-step process outlined at www.financialliteracymonth.com.
Carolyn Jabs has been writing about families and the Internet for more than 15 years. She is the mother of three computer-savvy kids.