by Carolyn Jabs
How will your family be celebrating National Financial Literacy Month? If you’re like most parents, you’ll answer that question with a “Huh?” Few Americans know that Congress declared April a month for promoting financial literacy in 2003, well before the recent financial crisis began.
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 these skills to their kids. 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, at least when it comes to teaching kids about finances. A large number of websites 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:
Once children start school, they need to know a little bit about how to use – and save – money. These two websites explain the fundamentals:
PLANET ORANGE (www.orangekids.com) is a lively game site in which kids blast off to colorful environments where they take on interactive challenges that help them understand earning, spending, saving and investing. Most 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 (piggybank.disney.go.com) is a virtual board game that helps kids “make their dreams come true” by setting financial goals. The game, which is produced by Disney in cooperation with T. Rowe Price, is clever and colorful. It’s also complicated 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 very 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 website 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 (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/ youarehere/) is a website of the Federal Trade Commission that 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 website alerts kids to scams which target young people such as bogus modeling agencies or “free” products which aren’t actually free.
REALITY CHECK (http://www.jumpstart.org/reality-check.html) 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 a movie channel? After kids have answered all 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 websites:
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 also available, and so is a simulation that features soccer instead of football.
THE STOCK MARKET GAME (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 Financial Literacy Month (www.jumpstart.org) Or commit the entire month of April to a full financial makeover by following the 30-step process outlined at financialliteracymonth.com.
Carolyn Jabs, M.A., has been writing about families and the Internet for more than 15 years.