Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Learning by Numbers: Online Financial Tools

A guest post by Joseph Baker

Technologies that enhance the overall educational experience can make all the difference. We know about language-learning software and interactive history texts, but these types of tools can also be useful in other areas. One such field of education that is often overlooked is accounting and finance. With the amount of software and apps out there for children (and teenagers) to use, teachers have a variety of options to reinforce student interest. Below are some of the best options to get your little ones on their way to a master’s in finance.
Ø  For the very young: Planet Orange. In this free online game, recommended for first grade and up, astronauts are given a certain amount of money to spend on gear. You also have to play to "pay" for some of the games. But never fear, if you run out of cash you can find work around the galaxy to replenish your funds. This is a great first introduction to money management, with lessons specifically about budgeting, saving, spending and even investing.
Ø  For allowance savers: Computer budgeting tools are no longer just for accountants. This easy online tool (or app if you choose) allows you to track income and spending (automatically if purchases are made with a debit card) and work toward a goal. Graphs illustrate spending patterns, for example, telling your teenager that she spent half of her monthly budget on frozen yogurt. You can also set up weekly reminders that let you know if you're meeting your goals and on the right track to get the car, LEGO set, or spring break trip you've been planning. Younger kids may need help using it, but middle-schoolers and up will find it empowering.
Ø  For short attention spans: Penguin Cold Cash. This online game hides money lessons behind adorable animations and silly, skill-based games like Penguin Sliding and Iceberg Surfing. One unique feature is that the money resembles actual American currency, which helps kids work on identifying coins and bills. Players have to count their money and make change to enjoy the arcade games, but the money changing is secondary to the game play, making even the more distractible kids enjoy the learning sections.
Ø  For future gurus: iTrade. Why not let your fifteen-year old manage his or her own portfolio? For kids and teens with a real interest in investments and the stock market, this free game from iTunes looks exactly like a mobile stock management app. Users can choose stocks based on their history and knowledge about the company, and then track them through graphs and updates over the course of the month. If you earn the most money, you may end up at the leader board by the end of the month. If you make poor investment choices and lose big, you gain the next-best thing to real world experience with none of the heartache.
Ø  For the planner: CalcMooLator Pro. Funny name, serious software. This free app allows you to answer all kind of financial questions: renting verses buying, how much that minimum wage job will earn you by the end of the summer, and how much a new car will actually cost once the loan is full term. It’s a great way to give kids some perspective about costs, and to allow them to have a little control over their own money management.
Ø  For the teen shopping queen: ShopSavvy. If you notice a string of ill-considered purchases, put this free app on your high-schooler’s smart phone. It allows them to scan a product’s bar code (adding to the cool tech factor), then automatically see prices both online and nearby for that same item. It should prevent overspending and impulse purchases by putting more information up front. It also encourages thinking twice about your buying habits and tracking deals, a money-saving skill that has lifelong implications. Choose a reasonable price for your child’s next “must have” item, and they’ll actually receive a notification when the item reaches that price point.
Technology has made all sorts of new tools available. As kids, when we had questions about the stock market we had to pore over the newspaper. Our only experience in budgeting was shaking the piggy bank when we saw something we wanted. The youth of today have the unique opportunity to learn money management skills early. Whether they're fascinated by finance or bored by balances, these skills are every bit as critical as writing and chemistry. By using games, children and teens get a leg up on the real world while having a good time, which in business is referred to as a win-win.

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