Beyond teaching kids to eat vegetables and play outside a bit more, I can’t think of a more useful or laudable goal than saving money responsibly. Our citizenry’s (and government’s) inability to spend responsibly is well-documented and not fully realized until it’s too late and you’re out of ice cream money or Social Security checks. The weight and inertia of the collective culture to spend, spend, spend is so strong, parents likely feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped. They need an ally. I’d like to nominate FamZoo, a simple, flexible, and easy-to-use tool to help kids learn the elusive skill of sound financial planning. And better yet, you can try it for free for two months.
FamZoo allows parents to set up a “virtual family bank” allocating spending as they see fit. In doing so, parents and children can track savings goals accordingly. FamZoo also educates, teaching kids valuable concepts like interest as well as the importance of charitable giving. Most importantly, FamZoo is scalable: modify your savings goals as your child grows and their budgets and needs change. For example, here’s how FamZoo can help:
- Small children – Learn the basics of what a bank is (a way to keep their money safe from their thieving siblings) and do simple but important things like deposit spare change, learn to count money, learn what a balance is, and how to live within their means, learn to save for an item (instead of incessant begging).
- Tweens - As the kids mature, you can add sophistication and introduce things like allowance with splitting between multiple accounts so kids learn about savings and philanthropy.
- Teens – Parents can set up loans for buying expensive items (like a laptop or an ipod) and separate accounts/budgets for specific kinds of spending like clothing or an expensive hobby.
I encourage folks to check out FamZoo’s awesome online tour (amazingly, I’ve yet to come across a similar online presentation, a la Google docs.)
I must admit I was initially skeptical about kids using this for two reasons: one, the fact that it’s about money and learning stuff. But it was then I realized that when it comes to computers, kids are far most sophisticated than we give them credit for (maybe they’ll hack the system and quadruple their allowance?), and will likely find FamZoo to be really cool. By using pleasing visuals, nifty cartoons – illustrations are by Pulitzer prize nominated Henry Payne - and visualizing progress via charts and graphs, Famzoo takes potentially confusing concepts and makes them easy to understand for children. The Web copy is also crisp and clever: FamZoo makes financial management – gasp! – kinda fun.
Second, and more practically, what are the incentives for kids to use this? Amazingly it took me all of five minutes to find the answer: money. And that is where FamZoo really sings: parents can arrange the allowance system so if, say, a chore isn’t completed, than the allowance is withheld – and this is something children will quickly become aware of, as the lost cash is shown there on their very own computer screen. In a way, FamZoo is the enforcer; no more good cop (dad), bad cop (mom) shtick!
Which brings us back to the poor parents, beaten down by our consumerist society, or a least one that suggests you can buy now and pay later. A parent can lay down the law and not get their children a Nintendo (are those things still around?), but what happens when every kid on the block has one? It’s a frustrating collision of values, and often times children aren’t fully aware of the consequences. Seems to me parents have two choices. One, turn off the computer, then unplug it, and move to the mountains where foraging for food will dominate your children’s time. Or secondly, remain in society, where FamZoo can help by teaching kids how to be responsible steward of their finances in a fun, entertaining way. What a concept: sound financial management for children. Y’know, now that I think about it, I’m eagerly awaiting the next iteration: FamZoo for, say, y’know, actual adults.