Saturday, March 20, 2010

Review: Family Mint

Money management skills are essential for success in adulthood. Unfortunately, given the current financial situation of many, I don't believe the last generation of parents provided the level of training necessary. Often times parents don't have the skills themselves to pass on, having grown up in an instant gratification society of credit cards and materialization. Many are hoping that the upcoming generation will be wiser with their money.

The best way to teach money management to your kids is to actually have them manage money! Wild concept, huh? Allowance is one way to accomplish this, but how can parents take money management to the next step to better prepare kids to manage money as adults?

FamilyMint is an online training tool for kids to gain financial knowledge for the future. Jeff Eusebio, co-founder and CEO, came up with the idea FamilyMint after being unable to find an existing product to help financially train his own 5 children. Bob Masterson, who has 8 children of his own, also saw the need for such a product and quickly joined Eusebio's efforts. You can read more about the impressive background of the FamilyMint founders and advisors here.

Getting started with a basic FamilyMint account is both FREE and easy! With the parent acting as the online banker, kids can make deposits, request withdrawals, and set long and short-term savings goals under their account. The interface for kids allows them to visually see how much money they have in their account and progress made toward their goals. Kids can even pull in their own graphics to represent each goal.

While the kids can independently log in to their account and make decisions on how they would like to allocate their finances, each decision needs to be approved by the parent banker. The parent has their own interface showing the activity of each student account and can either accept or deny the requested activity. Parents also have the ability to set up automated deposits for allowance, set interest rates, or provide matching deposits. The parent banker has flexible tools and features available to customize the learning experience for his or her family. The parent physically manages the cash for each child, rather than the kids stashing their savings in piggy banks and sock drawers. When the child has an approved deposit or withdrawal, they come to the parent for the exchange.

Initially, I wasn't sure how we would use this product in our home. My primary obstacle was that we don't give allowance and my children both have real bank accounts. Additionally, my kids are decent savers and I wasn't sure whether or not they would actually learn anything with this tool nor enjoy doing it. They have both been successfully managing money they've received for birthdays and holidays or odd jobs around the neighborhood.

While my kids do have bank accounts, we typically do not let them withdraw from their accounts. Instead, we consider their accounts long-term savings. What I decided to do is use FamilyMint as a way to manage cash before it hits their real account, as well as use it as a visual of the total amount of money each has saved. For each child, I set up a long-term savings that reflected their real bank accounts. This was helpful to both of them, because they did not have access to look up this information automatically except for paper records. Next, I set up the General Savings account as the total cash they had at home. We didn't set any large long-term goals, since the purpose of their real bank account is for college, a car, or larger purchases in the future. The last category I set up was for charity.

Because my kids are 10 and 13, I felt it best that they physically keep track of their money rather than have me hold it for them, distributing and collecting. They had been keeping their cash here and there - wallets, lock-boxes, on the dresser. To help them manage better, I gave them each a jar and had them gather up all of their money. The jars are kept in a kitchen cupboard accessible to them. They are responsible enough to not take money from their jars for spending without permission. If they wanted some pocket money for their wallets, they either requested that amount as a withdrawal on the FamilyMint account and took it from the jar when approved or withheld that amount from their next deposit.

To my surprise, both of my kids were excited to get going with FamilyMint. I quickly showed them the ropes and explained how to set up their own goals. Then the learning began. My son's first goal was for a $400 Lego set. As much as I didn't think that was a good idea, I rolled with it. After deciding what he wanted to contribute weekly and entering that amount into the system, we were able to talk about how long it would take to save the whole amount using the program. Kids can also enter a date they would like to have completed their goal and the program will let them know how much they need to save each week.

A few days later we discussed value. How many smaller Lego sets could he purchase for the same amount? Was there something else he'd rather have than more Legos? We talked about how that amount of money could actually purchase a Wii or other larger item. It didn't take him long to reconsider whether or not his was a wise purchase. He still has the goal on his account, but is not contributing as much weekly and instead focusing on smaller goals.

My daughter has a regular dog walking job with a neighbor and always has cash on hand to manage. Typically, she spends very little of her earnings. However, she's been wanting a particular game for the Wii and set that up as her first goal. Then, realizing that this is a game that her brother would enjoy, she quickly convinced him that they could both enjoy the game sooner if they combined their efforts (smiles). It didn't take much to get him on board. I loved that they were working toward a goal together on something that they would both enjoy.

During the process, they had been telling me they were close to meeting their goal and that I'd need to order from Amazon soon. However, when they arrived at the magic purchase price amount, a funny thing happened. They asked if I would first get the game from the library to make sure they really liked the game enough to purchase. They wanted to spend their money wisely.

What I loved about FamilyMint is it made my kids think more about money. They both already had a good foundation of money management. Neither are big spenders and both like to earn. However, they didn't have a good big picture of the overall process. The FamilyMint interface allowed them to take something that was still a bit abstract in the large scope of things and pull it all together.

Give FamilyMint a try and see how it works for your family. Basic accounts are FREE with a Pro version coming soon. Each Crew member used this website a little differently according to the needs of their family, so be sure to check out the other TOS Crew reviews.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was provided the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

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