Family checkbook: Introduce children to money-related apps

By Kathy Sweedler/University of Illinois Extension

Summertime! It’s a wonderful time of year to slow down and relax after a busy school year of homework, events and bustling to be on time. Summer also is a chance for children to practice life skills, including money management. Of course, the lessons need to be both age-appropriate and fun.

An informative website, Money as You Grow (, includes concepts and activities to help children learn about money, and they’re conveniently classified by age. For example, a 5-year-old can learn that “you may have to wait before you can buy something you want.” And, by age 13, the money lesson can be “you should save at least a dime for every dollar you receive.”

Suggested activities to help young children to learn to wait include “when your child is standing in line for a turn on the swings, or looking forward to her favorite holiday, point out that sometimes we have to wait for things we want.” Or, another activity is to encourage children to save money for a special treat. For an older child, a suggested activity is to “have your child set a goal to buy something he wants and have him work toward that amount.”

Money as You Grow is a result of recommendations from the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability.

Activities and conversations that involve our daily lives can help make money real to children. While you’re shopping at the grocery, paying the monthly bills or planning a family trip, be creative on ways to involve your children in age-appropriate ways.

Another approach is to look for books and games that spark financial conversations.

Katherine Mei, program coordinator for University of Illinois Extension, reviewed many apps to find good examples of games that teach personal finance concepts. The UI Extension does not endorse any specific products. There are many good game apps; the ones reviewed in this article are used to illustrate how they can help children learn about finances — and have fun!

As stated on Money as You Grow, 3- to 5-year-olds need to learn how to identify coins and their value. Amazing Coin Lite has four games about counting, matching and using coins to make purchases. Along with cute graphics and well-designed activities, the free version provides enough options to keep children involved for quite a while. I like that this simple game can be used by children who don’t read yet; the game is narrated in a pleasant voice.

Kids 6 to 10 are ready to make spending choices and choices between saving money vs. spending money. Green$treets: Unleash the Loot! is a wonderful example of a fun, engaging activity that reinforces these concepts. Children are challenged to save an endangered animal by earning money weeding or cleaning up a bedroom. Once money is earned, then children have decisions to make: how much money to charity vs. savings vs. immediate spending. It’s not any easier to make these decisions in the game than in real life — so many temptations. I love the mischievous character “Schmootz” and that you have to shake your iPad to water your garden.

Kids 11 to 13 are ready to learn about credit cards and the problems of buying on credit what you can’t afford to pay for with cash. Celebrity Calamity drives home this point. Plus, there’s more to this game than the lessons about credit and interest. The app also touches on financial wellness and happiness as well as career advancement. Plus, the game activities (balancing pleasing the celebrity boss vs. keeping debt down) provides plenty of opportunities to expand on these topics in conversations with your teens.

I enjoyed playing these game apps. Do you have a favorite children’s app that teaches about money? If so, I’d love to hear about it. This month, the UI Extension’s Plan Well, Retire Well Facebook page is featuring Kids and Money. Check out our Facebook page ( for more ideas about engaging children with money-related activities.

Kathy Sweedler is a consumer economics educator at the UI Extension. Contact her at 333-7672 or email
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