In the modern world, teaching your kids about money management is a lot more complicated than it used to be. It’s no longer enough to know how to squirrel away quarters in a piggy bank. To get along in the 21st-century economy, kids need to learn about things like electronic banking, compound interest, and the importance of staying debt-free as they grow up.
Fortunately, the same technology that makes modern money so complicated has also created new tools for learning about it. The Internet offers a wealth of educational websites, games, and banking apps to help kids of all ages master the basics of personal finance. From the three-year-old learning to identify different coins to the teenager thinking of starting a business, kids can take advantage of these tools to learn the money management skills they need.
Tools That Teach Financial Skills
The Internet is the biggest collection of information in all of history. You can find information online about almost anything, from cooking to computer programming to managing your money. Adults can use online personal finance courses to learn about budgeting, building credit, and investing for retirement.
The Internet also has a wide array of sites to educate kids about money. With fun facts, games, and videos, these sites present financial information in a form children can understand. In fact, many of them are so much fun to play with, kids won’t even realize they’re learning at the same time.
1. H.I.P. Pocket Change
The U.S. Mint’s kids’ site, H.I.P. Pocket Change, aims to teach children about the money Americans use and its history. In its pages, youngsters can find a wealth of kid-friendly information about how coins are made, current U.S. coins, coin collecting as a hobby, and the mint itself.
Kids will probably have the most fun with the “Games and Activities” section. Some of the games, like “Hoop and Darts,” are purely for entertainment. Others, like “Gold Rush” and “Map Mania,” tie in to lessons about U.S. history or geography. (Most of these games are narrated by an annoying synthesized voice, but kids who are old enough to read can simply turn it off and read the instructions instead.)
The game that can help children the most with real-world money skills is “Counting with Coins.” This game teaches preschoolers and young school-age children how to identify different coins and their values, add up prices, and perform basic math tasks. As they complete challenges, they earn badges and collect supplies for cartoon characters going on a camping trip.
2. Practical Money Skills Play
Kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens, can learn about money and have fun at the same time on Practical Money Skills Play. This subsection of the financial literacy site Practical Money Skills features a variety of games that teach different types of money skills, including:
- Cash Puzzler. This is a simple puzzle suitable for kids ages 3 to 6. A picture of a $1, $5, $10, $20, or $100 bill is cut up into small squares, and the solver must reassemble it. After solving the puzzle, kids can read “fun facts” about the president featured on the bill.
- Peter Pig’s Money Counter. This game teaches 5- to 8-year olds how to identify coins and add up their values. They earn virtual money for playing, which they can choose to save or spend in a virtual store on accessories for Peter Pig.
- Financial Soccer. This Visa-sponsored game uses soccer to make a multiple-choice money quiz more entertaining. Players answer questions about personal financial skills to advance down the field and try to score. Topics include saving, budgeting, establishing good credit, avoiding debt, and identity theft. There are several levels of difficulty: Amateur for ages 8 to 11, Semi-Pro for ages 14 to 18, and World-Class for 18 and up. Players can click on a topic and level to read up on the subject before playing.
- Financial Football. Also sponsored by Visa, this game works the same way as Financial Soccer, but it features a different sport and more elaborate graphics. Players can select the specific plays they want to run, but success or failure depends on answering the question correctly. This game offers the same difficulty levels as Financial Soccer, but with different names: Rookie, All-Pro, and Hall of Fame. Financial Football is available as a Web-based game or an app for iOS or Android.
- Money Metropolis. In this game, 7- to 12-year-olds make their way around a virtual town performing tasks to earn money. They can spend their earnings in the town’s virtual stores or save them up toward a long-term goal.
- Road Trip to Savings. This is a driving game with a twist for ages 8 to 15. As players move along the road, they try to hit opportunities for earning money while avoiding indulgences that cost money. They must make sure to gas up regularly and pay their auto insurance premiums, or their trip ends early.
- Countdown to Retirement. This slower-paced game is a simulation to show kids ages 8 to 15 how life decisions affect their retirement savings. Players assume the role of a young person starting their first job. They work their way through life, earning promotions and making choices about housing, transportation, saving, paying off debt, and “business opportunities” that aren’t always what they seem. If they make the right choices, they end the game by retiring in style.
- The Payoff. This immersive, experiential game for ages 14 and up is sponsored by Visa. Teens take on the role of an aspiring video blogger trying to prepare for an important video competition. To succeed, they must make decisions about earning, spending, and dealing with financial crises. The game teaches about topics such as banking, saving, payday loans, insurance, and online safety.
3. Savings Spree
The iOS app Savings Spree, sponsored by Money Savvy Generation, is a game to teach kids to save money for a specific goal. It’s presented as a game show hosted by a talking cartoon pig, with players taking on the role of contestants. The game is designed for ages 7 and up, but younger kids can also play with help from a parent or older sibling.
Players start the game with a small amount of money and make choices about how to use it. They can spend it immediately, save it for a short-term goal like a new bike, invest it toward a long-term goal like college savings, or donate it to help others. Each choice leads them into a mini-game, such as matching or a maze, which gives them the chance to win or lose money with their decisions.
The game shows how daily lifestyle choices can affect long-term savings, such as how buying a daily soda can add up to over $500 in a year. It also teaches about how unexpected expenses can derail your savings plans and the importance of having an emergency fund.
The Savings Spree app isn’t free, but it can provide kids with hours of entertainment, along with some useful knowledge. It’s received awards from the Parents’ Choice Foundation, Children’s Technology Review, and the National Parenting Product Awards program.
4. You Are Here
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the sponsor of You Are Here, a site that teaches kids to be smarter consumers. Aimed at fifth to eighth graders, the site is set up as an imaginary shopping mall populated by colorful cartoon teens. Currently, the site requires Flash software to use.
Kids visit different areas of the mall to learn about different financial topics. The sections include:
West Terrace. This area focuses on advertising and marketing. Kids can learn about advertising techniques by designing a poster ad for Sherman’s Shoes, play a matching game at Market-Match Wireless to learn about target marketing, visit Gr8 Gadgets to understand how TV ads can be misleading, and check out the Nutritional Emporium to learn about suspicious health claims.
- East Terrace. This section of the mall teaches kids about scams. They can learn about bogus modeling offers at Clothing Co., fraudulent health products at Maggie’s Miracle Products, phony freebies at the Free Vacation booth, and tips for spotting scams at Kablamo! Comics.
- Food Court. The Food Court showcases the idea of business competition. Kids can learn about how competition helps customers by visiting three competing pizzerias, watch a documentary about monopolies and unfair competition at the movie theater, explore the concept of supply and demand at Candytooth Kingdom, and protest a proposed merger at the Tripple Cold Creamery.
- Security Plaza. This area is devoted to fighting identity theft. Mall Security explains how to reduce your risk of identity theft, Network Security discusses online privacy protection, the Arcade explains what type of information it’s most important to protect, and the Book Cafe explores safety on social media.
The BizKid$ site is all about celebrating young entrepreneurs. It’s the companion site to the “BizKid$” TV show, a personal finance show for kids on Maryland Public Television. The show profiles young entrepreneurs and explores topics like credit and debt, budgeting, taxes, saving, careers, financial markets, and the economy.
The website features:
- Clips from the show
- Games about resource allocation, such as running a lemonade stand or buying piggy banks to attack rival pigs
- Resources for starting a business such as a sample business plan and tips on marketing, bookkeeping, and making the sale
- Resources for adults, including a blog called Money Talk with tips for parents on talking to kids about money, lesson plans and a treasure hunt activity to run at school, and a community toolkit on incorporating Biz Kid$ material into local community events
Most of the content on the BizKid$ site is free. You can pay for extras like full episodes of the show, copies of the book “How To Turn $100 Into $1,000,000,” or an online financial literacy course based on the book. Middle school and high school teachers can also access companion lesson plans for each episode of the show.
6. Jump$tart’s Reality Check
The Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy is a nonprofit that promotes financial education for kids. One of the tools it uses to do this is its Reality Check quiz for teens. It asks teens multiple-choice questions about what lifestyle they imagine for themselves after they graduate from high school or college. For instance, they can select where they plan to live, what type of transportation they plan to use, and how much student loan debt they expect to have.
After they submit their answers, teens get the “reality check” part. The site estimates how much the student’s chosen lifestyle would cost and gives some examples of jobs that pay the salary they’d need to finance it. It also outlines what level of education they’re likely to need to get these sorts of jobs.
This preview of the future helps steer youngsters toward realistic choices about their future career path. Based on the answers they get, they might decide they need to stay in school longer, choose a different career, or scale down their expectations about their future lifestyle.
Apps for Managing Money
Games and quizzes can help kids and teens learn about money in the abstract, but at some point, they need to start managing their own money in the real world. That’s why many parents choose to give their children an allowance. It gives them real, practical experience with handling money and shows them how their choices about spending and saving make a difference. And, if the allowance is tied to chores, it also teaches them the important lesson that time is money.
In the old days, kids used to stash their nickels and dimes in a piggy bank. That’s still an option today, but children who do this miss out on the interest they’d earn with a real bank account. They also have to keep all their money in cash, which isn’t useful for online shopping.
Fortunately, in the modern world, there’s an app for that — several, in fact. Some allowance-tracking apps are tied to a real-world bank account, while others are just a way of keeping track of how much cash kids have earned. Some apps are best suited to young children, while others are appropriate for teens. Whatever your kids’ ages and needs, there’s an app that can help them manage their money.
The free PiggyBot app for iOS is a virtual piggy bank for children between the ages of 4 and 8. For kids who are used to a physical piggy bank, PiggyBot has a familiar look and feel, but it deals with virtual money, not physical coins and bills.
To use PiggyBot, kids create a virtual account, complete with their own PIN. Each week on allowance day, parents or guardians can add virtual funds to their kids’ accounts. This eliminates the need for parents to keep cash on hand for allowances, and it allows children to watch their account balances grow.
Each account contains three separate buckets: one for spending, one for saving, and one for sharing with others through charitable giving. Parents can decide how to divide up their kids’ earnings among the three. Kids can set goals for each bucket, add pictures of the things they’re saving for, and track their progress toward their goals. When they reach a goal, they earn a special “Goal Getter” message and can display the picture as an achievement.
One limitation of PiggyBot is that it’s not tied to a real bank account. That means when kids actually want to cash in their earnings, they need to ask a parent or guardian to either make the purchase for them or take them to the real bank and pay out the money in cash. So kids aren’t literally in control of their own money; they’re still dependent on Mom or Dad to hand over the promised funds. That’s why this app is most suitable for younger kids who may not have the discipline yet to handle real cash.
Like PiggyBot, Bankaroo is a virtual bank account for kids to track their allowance money. However, this app is more sophisticated, like a real bank account rather than a simple piggy bank. Although any child with basic reading skills can use it, Bankaroo says most of its users are between the ages of 5 and 14.
Kids can use their Bankaroo accounts to keep track of their earnings and spending. They can view past and upcoming transactions and even make transfers to other kids in the family. They can also set savings goals, monitor progress toward them, and earn digital badges for achieving them.
Bankaroo offers extra features for parents. Besides using their kids’ Bankaroo accounts to pay them for chores, they can choose to encourage saving by adding “interest” to their kids’ savings accounts or matching the money they set aside in savings.
However, like PiggyBot, Bankaroo isn’t tied to a real bank account. Though kids can set up recurring “payments” out of their accounts to cover things like ongoing subscriptions, their parents or guardians are the ones who make the payments. If they want to spend their funds at a store, kids have to “withdraw” the cash from a parent.
The basic Bankaroo app is free and works on iOS, Android, and Kindle. There’s also a Web-based Bankaroo Online that works with any Internet-connected device. If parents choose to pay for the more advanced Bankaroo PLUS app, their kids have the option of setting up three separate accounts within the app: a “checking” account for day-to-day spending, a “savings” account for long-term goals, and a “charity” account for donations. There’s also a special Bankaroo for Schools app for the classroom, which includes an online portal for teachers and a mobile app for students.
The free Wallit app takes PiggyBot and Bankaroo’s features to the next level. You can use it not only as a virtual tally of allowance money and financial goals, but also for real-world spending and saving. And it’s for whole families to use together.
Unlike PiggyBot and Bankaroo, Wallit is linked to a parent’s checking or savings account, so they can transfer real dollars into the account. If a teen has a bank account of their own, they can transfer money from Wallitt into it. If not, they can use the money in their Wallit account to purchase gift cards for top retailers. However, they can’t spend more than they have in their Wallit account, so there’s no risk of overdraft fees.
Family members can use Wallit for more than just transferring money. For instance, parents can use it to assign specific tasks, such as chores, to other family members, and pay for them when they’re completed. Users can set financial goals with Wallit, allot money toward them, and track their progress. Wallit can teach kids and teens about saving, spending, budgeting, and goal setting, while also giving them hands-on access to their money.
The BusyKid app offers a lot of features for both parents and kids. For starters, it serves as a digital chore chart. Parents can add chores to a list and set a fee for each one, and kids can log on to select “I did it” when they complete one. As soon as the parents confirm the chore was done, they can immediately transfer the payment for it from their bank account. They can also use the app to pay their kids a regular weekly allowance.
Kids can use their earnings in BusyKid in a variety of ways. They can save the money, donate it to a charity, select “get cash” to request a cash transfer from a parent, or load money onto a bank-issued reloadable prepaid card for spending. Most intriguing of all, they can choose to invest their funds in stocks — yes, real ones — for companies such as Nike and Netflix.
If this sounds like a little too much responsibility for children, don’t worry — BusyKid provides a safety net. Parents get the final say over any transfer of money into or out of the system, from allowances being paid to money being donated to charity. The app sends parents a push notification each time a kid uses it to transfer money, and parents simply respond to it to approve the transfer.
There’s no monthly subscription fee for BusyKid, but there are a variety of other fees users may encounter if they’re not careful. For instance, users pay a fee to transfer money between cards, transfer money from a card to a bank account, request a paper statement, or order a replacement for a lost or stolen card. Also, kids can be charged a declined transaction fee if they attempt to use their prepaid cards before funds have been loaded.
Another app families can all use together is FamZoo. This app bills itself as a “virtual family bank” in which parents serve as the “bankers” and children are the “customers.” Parents get to set their own rules for the family bank, including:
- Regular, automated allowance payments
- Rewards for chores and other jobs
- Penalties for missed work
- Parent-funded “interest” or matching contributions for savings
- Loans to kids for specific purposes
- Automatically diverting a portion of kids’ earnings to saving or charitable giving
Parents and kids can use FamZoo to keep track of allowances, chores, spending, saving, and giving. They can also make instant transfers to other family members at any time. Kids can see only the money in their own accounts, while parents can see the balances for all members of the family.
Any member of the family can use FamZoo to set a savings goal and monitor progress. The app also offers other features, like to-do lists and shared wish lists for gift ideas.
There are two separate versions of FamZoo. The IOU account is virtual-only, like PiggyBot, while the prepaid card account includes prepaid cards for all family members and the ability to move money between cards with no fee. Both accounts charge a $5.99 monthly subscription fee. Famzoo is available for iOS, Android, and as a website that works on any device.
Designed for kids between ages 6 and 18, goHenry is like a debit card with training wheels. The service provides kids with their own personalized, reloadable cards, but their parents get to decide how the children can use them.
Parents can transfer their kids’ weekly allowance to the card and also add tasks the children can complete to earn extra cash. Kids can then use the card like a debit card — within limits. Parents can manage their kids’ cards through the goHenry app, and all their children’s spending takes place under their watchful eyes.
For starters, parents can receive notifications about how much their kids spend and where. They can set limits on how much their kids can spend in a week, how much they can spend at one time, and where they’re allowed to spend it — in stores, at ATMs, or online. And they can instantly block a card completely if it gets lost or as a form of discipline.
The goHenry app is available for iOS or Android. There’s also a Web-based version that works on any device. There’s a $3.99 monthly fee for the service per child.
13. Toshl Finance
Unlike the other apps on this list, Toshl Finance isn’t specifically for children or families. It’s a perfectly useful budgeting and finance app for adults, but with a design that’s also appealing to teens.
Toshl Finance works kind of like Mint and its competitors. It monitors the balances from your bank and credit card accounts, allowing you to track all your income and expenses in one place. You can use it to:
- Analyze your spending habits and find savings opportunities
- Create a budget
- Keep track of bills and pay them manually or automatically
- Organize your receipts
- Set financial goals and track your progress
- Calculate the tip in a restaurant
All this is pretty standard stuff for a budgeting app. However, Toshl Finance makes it more fun by adding colorful cartoon characters that pop up to offer tips and tricks for money management.
The Toshl Finance app comes in several versions. Basic Toshl is free, while Toshl Pro charges a fee of $2.99 per month (or $19.99 for a full year) in exchange for more advanced features, such as the ability to track more accounts and create more budgets. The priciest version, Toshl Medici, can sync to your bank accounts automatically, so you don’t have to enter balances by hand. It costs $4.99 per month or $39.99 for a full year.
Toshl Finance is available for iOS and Android. There’s also a Web-based version you can use on any desktop computer or tablet.
Kids learn to manage money in three main ways. The first is to take in the theory through lessons, from simple ones like how to count coins to complex ones about business competition and investing. Financial websites and apps help kids absorb these lessons by packaging them in a form that’s fun and entertaining. The more kids enjoy being on a site, the longer they’ll stick with it and the more they’ll pick up.
Second, kids learn to deal with money in practical terms by handling their own. Figuring out how to stretch their limited dollars to meet all their needs and wants, both short-term and long-term, is an excellent practice for sticking to a budget as an adult. Money-management apps can make this easier by putting kids’ earnings into a form that’s easy to see and use and by helping them monitor their progress toward financial goals.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, kids learn by example. One of the best ways to teach your children to manage their money wisely is to do the same yourself. If they grow up watching you compare prices at the grocery store or save up for large purchases rather than buying on credit, those lessons will stick with them in the years to come.
What’s your favorite tool for teaching your kids about money management?