- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2001

Money makes the world go round, but a typical child may be lost when trying to manage it. Even though youngsters are aware of the green bills and silver coins at an early age, many of them think they sprout magically from the automated teller machine or dad's pocket.

Making use of the Internet's unlimited potential for education, one site provides an excellent primer in the economics of living, showing the smartest ways to make, save and spend the legal tender.

The Mint

Site address: www.themint.org


The Mint was developed as a collaborative effort between the Northwestern Mutual Foundation in Milwaukee and the National Council on Economic Education. The site was designed by Homeboyz Interactive, an organization that helps get troubled youths off the streets by teaching them computer skills.

Creator quotable

"Northwestern Mutual approached the National Council on Economic Education after sponsoring a study of new college freshmen, which revealed a basic lack of financial knowledge," says Deanne Tillisch, director of public relations for Northwestern Mutual. "Our goal is to help educate students on money management skills before they reach adulthood."

Word from the Webwise

The Mint targets middle and high school students, but the site's information can be used by anyone who wants to better understand cash from compound interest and dividends to finance charges and stock market terminology.

This detailed, comprehensive site combines no-nonsense design, short text bursts and logical navigation to take visitors through a nice selection of environments "Making a Budget," "Saving and Investing," "Learning and Earning," "Your Role in the Economy," "The Government," "Spending," "Quizzes and Games" and "Start Your Own Business."

Regardless of age, a first stop should be the "Quizzes and Games" section where a series of challenges, such as the "Money Quiz" or "Real World Credit Card Game," are designed to help determine money management skill levels and lead visitors through the many sections of the site.

One difficult concept for many savers to grasp concerns calculating interest. A quick check into the "Rule of 72," leads to the "Saving and Investing" area where a visitor can determine how many years it will take an investment to double based on the interest rate received.

Continuing its lessons on interest and investing, one can navigate to a "Financial Calculator." Easy to use, the first step is to enter information about the desired purchase, including its price, how long one wants to save, the amount already saved and the amount needed.

Visitors then indicate the savings vehicle they will be using from their piggy bank, which pays no interest, to the stock market, which pays a 10 percent return, according to the site. With a click, the dollar amount that must be put aside each month to reach the goal pops up.

Two more calculators "The Magic of Compounding" and "How to be a Millionaire When You Retire" demonstrate how compound interest helps savings grow.

From these calculator areas, visitors can opt to investigate the "Where to Invest $1,000" page, which explains the differences between the stock market, savings accounts, CDs/bonds, collectibles, piggy bank and money market accounts.

Another section of interest, "Making a Budget," helps savers understand earned and unearned income, fixed and variable expenses, and review a budget pie chart showing a typical breakdown of standard family expenses.

From here, students can review a budget designed for a full-time tour guide earning $15,000 per year before clicking into "Create Your Own Budget" where they are challenged to make ends meet on a variety of salaries.

A stop at the "Learning and Earning" section offers an explanation on how educational achievement can increase earning ability. It includes a "Starting Salaries" page that lists nearly 30 professions with its starting salary and the education required.

Finally, a handy "Parents and Teachers" place helps teach economics and management to students. One of the more important pages found here, "Importance of Economic Literacy," outlines six basic concepts that will help prepare students to be responsible citizens, effective participants in the global economy and knowledgeable consumers.

Ease of use

The site efficiently moves visitors around, but I would have loved to have seen a site map for quick access to specific topics. Some of the activities, such as the game "Escape from Knab," links to other sites on the Web that require the Macromedia Shockwave plug-in.

Don't miss

"Your Role In The Economy" provides important information for anyone who generates or hordes cash. Within this section, I read explanations of how inflation and interest rates, recession, employment, taxes, and supply and demand affect savings and spending habits.

Family activity

Whether the goal is to start a front-yard lemonade stand or sell a product to raise money, a great group activity can be developed out of the "Start Your Own Business" section.

From these pages children can take two tests, the Entrepreneur Quiz and the Business Success Quiz to help young entrepreneurs determine whether they have what it takes to be successful. In a classroom or home-school setting, these questions can be further explored to better help children fully understand the reasons for business success.

Cybersitter synopsis

I found most of the explanations a bit too simple, but students will appreciate the easy-to-follow text and dictionary of terms as they prepare to enter the rat race.

Overall grade: B+

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]

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