You won’t find any animals at this zoo but you will find a wildly innovative way to teach your kids about money and personal finance. Here’s how to turn your little cubs into little bankers.
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If you’re anything like me, you look for ways to teach your kids practical lessons. That means my toddler helps clean up his own spilled milk. And my elementary-aged daughter gets an allowance so she can learn to manage money. We’ve done the allowance thing ever since I read The Opposite of Spoiled.
But we’ve struggled to regularly fund her spending, saving, and giving jars. We almost never keep cash on hand, and we are rarely at an actual ATM to get it out. (Virtual deposits and auto-paid bills, anyone?) So we begin using play money to represent the money she can spend. Except then that gets confusing when she spends from our debit card to get a better deal on Amazon (just like her mama!). And even more confusion arises when she gets actual cash for her birthday.
Enter FamZoo. This online service makes it easy for kids to learn about managing money by actually doing it. Because it’s highly visual, even little kids can understand their balances and spending patterns. And it makes things super simple for mom and dad, too.
What is FamZoo?
FamZoo is an online virtual family bank. It helps busy parents teach their kids good money habits. And it’s not just a static tool either. It lets parents teach their kids through hands-on practice. That includes teaching them to earn, save, spend, and give money wisely.
FamZoo was founded by Bill Dwight back in 2006 to teach his own children about personal finance. A Princeton graduate, he has been working in the software and internet businesses for more than 20 years. FamZoo represented an opportunity for him to merge his three greatest passions--his kids, building software, and promoting the importance of learning from strong role models.
With FamZoo, you act as the banker while your children represent customers. Through the use of either an IOU or a prepaid card account, your kids can access their own accounts, which you can see via a shared online dashboard.
What makes FamZoo unique is that it allows you to teach your kids about money based on your own values, rather than from a generic set of parameters. The system enables you to set up allowances, rewards for chores around the house, and even a form of payroll withholding to encourage savings and charitable giving.
It also allows for penalties for missed work assignments, enables parents to pay interest on their kid’s savings, does expense sharing and matching contributions, and even lets kids take out loans. The idea is to simulate a real-world banking and financial environment, but one over which you have complete control. In that way, you can teach your children exactly what you think is most important.
How Does FamZoo Work?
How it works depends on whether you are managing your kid’s funds through IOU accounts or prepaid cards.
IOU accounts track the money you’re holding on behalf of your children. The current balance in an IOU account is the amount you owe your children as a result of the money in those bank accounts. Your child can also have IOUs for money that they owe you for expense sharing or other things you might decide to set up.
The prepaid card accounts are similar, but they give a way for children to actually spend their money on their own card and to record where they’ve spent their money. The prepaid card works like your own debit card, except that you, as the parent, can see everything your child is spending money on.
Signing Up for an Account
Signing up for FamZoo will depend on which method you decide to use--IOUs or prepaid cards. If you sign up for an IOU, you’ll first register your family and choose a family sign-in name. Next, you’ll create a password and add your email and phone number. Then you register each of your children separately, and they choose their own login and password.
The next step is setting up a bank for each child using the setup wizard. Then you can do things like set up automatic payments for your child’s allowance, spending allocations for certain items, and more. You can follow, for instance, a pre-determined Spend/Save/Give program like the one I use with my daughter. Or you can set up allocations in a way that best aligns with your family’s values. Once you’re set up, you just monitor the account’s activity.
The money in the IOU account is all virtual and representative. So your child will actually wind up getting cash or spending on your own debit or credit card when they want to spend their money.
Signing up for a prepaid card gives your child real money, so be sure they can keep track of the card. Setting up the account is similar, except that you’ll have to decide how to actually fund the prepaid card. You can use Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or PayPal. Then you can order a card for each of your children. The first four cards are free.
The cards will arrive in the mail, and you can activate them online and select a PIN for each card, just like you would do for a regular debit card. Then your child can use the card to spend in a way that aligns with your goals.
FamZoo is really meant to work just like a regular bank. You can, for instance, set up parent-paid interest to encourage your kids to save their money. You can also allow children to pull from their savings as a loan but then pay it back with interest. Another feature is the ability to set up a parent-paid investment account to help your kids see the power of investing.
You can set up FamZoo to just be an allowance management system so that you pay your kids a set amount of money monthly or weekly. But you can also set up online chore charts. When kids complete the chores, they get paid. When they don’t complete the chores, you can dock their allowance. Or you can give kids a special fund for a specific purpose, like buying back-to-school clothes, and earmarking that money for that specific purchase.
Finally, you can help your kids set up and keep track of their budgets, so they know where their money is going and make wise choices.
Like all the best financial management tools these days, FamZoo has a mobile app that works with Apple and Android devices. This lets you see how your kids are managing their money from anywhere.
For IOU accounts, the first two months are free, and you don’t have to enter any payment information. After the trial period, the IOU account fee is $5.99 per month for the entire family. However, if you pay in advance, you can pay $30 for one year, which is just $2.50 per month.
Prepaid card accounts have a similar fee structure, but you can pay just $2.50 per month, by prepaying $59.99 for 24 months. Also, the first three months are free with the prepaid card account.
You can cancel your subscription at any time without any further obligation.
All payments are handled through PayPal, so FamZoo retains no information that could potentially be compromised in an identity theft situation.
FamZoo doesn’t hold your passwords and other personal information, so it’s a secure website. And if you create an IOU account, there isn’t real money at stake, so you can definitely feel secure.
And security is pretty tight even for the prepaid card accounts. With these accounts, your information is stored with TransCard, a credit card processor certified by the MasterCard Network that uses the latest security protocols for its customers.
You might also be wondering about getting kids their own debit cards. Is that even possible? Yes. Teenagers can get cards of their own in their own names, though some documentation and verification is required. Children under the age of 12, however, cannot have their own cards but can have a separate card in their parent’s name to make their own purchases or donations.
FamZoo Mobile App
The FamZoo mobile app is available for Apple and Android, and it has excellent user ratings. It lets parents log in to check their kid’s spending and chore habits. Parents can even approve chores that are checked off before actually paying their kids for them. And kids can log in to see how much money they have available and what chores they can do to earn money.
FamZoo has a robust FAQ section that answers a great many questions. But you can also contact them on their website, and you can typically expect an email response within an hour or two--even on the weekends.
Pros and Cons of FamZoo
Excellent teaching tool: I’ve never seen another tool that makes helping your kids manage money easier.
Easy to use: It’s extremely easy to customize and use and definitely beats having to remember to pull out the play money in the middle of a busy weekend.
It’s a paid service: It’s not super expensive, but there are certainly fee-free ways to teach kids about money, too.
Abundance of features could be overwhelming: Because you can simply do so much with it. So it may be a good idea to start smaller with allowances and then ramp up to advanced features like paid chore lists and parent-paid interest.
Alternatives to FamZoo
There are a couple of alternative options to FamZoo. One simpler option is called Bankaroo. It was developed by a kid for kids, so its target audience is a little younger. They say most of their customers are in the 5 to 14 range, while FamZoo’s more complicated possibilities cater to older elementary-aged children and teenagers.
PiggyBot was another option, though it was only available on Apple devices. It was similar in that it was a simple way to track spending, saving, giving, and to help kids save towards goals.
Bankaroos paid versions allow for kids to manage bank accounts and actual money, but PiggyBot only tracked money virtually. It works more like FamZoos IOU system.
Who is FamZoo For?
If you’re the parent of an older child, FamZoo can be a great option for helping that child manage his or her money. With all the complex options available, you can build in some real teaching moments without spending a lot of time doing it.
If you’re less interested in some of the features like paying your kids interest or automating their payments, you might opt for a free and less complicated option like Bankaroo. But if you want to be able to layer on these other functions to really dig into what money management looks like with your kids, FamZoo is definitely for you.
Bottom Line - Is FamZoo Worth Trying?
In order to teach children anything today, you have to compete with a lot of exciting distractions--such as TV, smartphones, video and online games, and all that is available on the web itself. FamZoo lets parents tap into most of those venues while teaching their kids about finance. In a way, FamZoo turns learning personal finance into a game, and kids learn a lot more effectively through games than they do by sitting in a classroom or through lectures from parents.
The parenting features are especially interesting. In an era of near-zero interest rates, this feature allows you to incentivize your children to save money. Do you think that will come in handy later in their lives?
Given how important learning personal finance is, in combination with the fact that they can’t learn it anywhere else, FamZoo looks less like a typical paid service and more like a low-cost opportunity to teach your children something that will have a serious impact on the rest of their lives.
Check out that opportunity at FamZoo; I think you’ll agree.