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Savings Safari: Seize Opportunities to Teach Kids About Money

Savings Safari is a mobile application designed during the Chicago AIGA chapter’s Mentorship Program in the spring of 2019. As a mentee in the product design track, I was responsible for all aspects of research and design of Savings Safari. Thank you to mentor Masha Safina and fellow mentees for participating in user tests and providing helpful feedback throughout the process.

The Problem


As parents, it is too easy to miss opportunities to teach our children to be smart about saving money. For example, as the parent of a 5 year-old, I know I have had a tendency to talk with my child about money only while shopping. This reactive approach misses opportunities to frame the discussion around saving and long-term planning as opposed to short-term spending.

User Insights

Upon doing some secondary research and surveying parents, I found that I was not alone in my habits or concerns.  

Behavior and Cognition Around Finances

  • Childhood ability to delay gratification is linked to success into adulthood (See Mischel’s “Marshmallow Test”).

  • Children are more inclined to delay gratification when authority figures keep their promises (delivering on allowance promises, paying back money borrowed, etc.).

  • Expressing gratitude boosts our ability to delay gratification.

  • By age 7, most children can set goals and are open to input on how to achieve those goals.

  • When teaching children ages 5-8 about money, it’s best to use cash.

  • Don’t link all chores to money.

  • Make saving an automatic habit.


  • Dungan, Nathan. Prodigal Sons and Material Girls: How Not to Be Your Child’s ATM. Wiley, 2003.

  • Godfrey, Neale S. Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees. Simon & Schuster, 2006.

  • Kobliner, Beth. Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even if You’re Not). Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Parents Feel Underprepared

According to a Visa USA survey, 56 percent of parents surveyed in 2004 believe their high school graduates are unprepared to responsibly manage personal finances. And according to a 2003 FleetBoston survey, only 26 percent of parents surveyed feel well-prepared to teach their children about finances, and fewer than half of parents consider themselves positive role models for their children, financially. 

Survey Findings

I wrote and fielded a short questionnaire to learn about parents’ priorities, attitudes, hopes, and fears around teaching their children about spending and saving. The responses (from 13 parents) are described below.

What do you hope to teach your children about money now or in the near future?



How would you rate your effectiveness to date in teaching your children about money/finances?

A score of 5 indicates “very effective,” and a score of 1 means “not at all.”

A score of 5 indicates “very effective,” and a score of 1 means “not at all.”

When and where do you tend to talk with your children about money?


If you give your children an allowance, how frequently do you give it?


Open-Ended Responses to Questions:

  • Is there anything specific you wish you could better teach your child about money?

  • What is most annoying or inconvenient about teaching about money?

  • Has your child posed any questions or comments that you’d like to share?

  • Do you have any fears with regard to teaching your child about money?

Some parents shared fascinating questions and observations posed by their children.


Current Solutions

A number of terrific digital tools are already available to support conversations between parents and children about money. Most of these applications track allowances and chore completion. Some facilitate working toward goals, and many help families separate funds for saving, spending, and giving. In the current competitive landscape, there are opportunities to combine educational tools geared for children with the act of setting goals and working toward those goals. And given that many parent/child conversations about money happen during shopping trips, there’s an opportunity to be mindful of this context.

User Stories






Registration process


User Testing

User testing on early iterations yielded the following feedback:


  • “Form of address” is an unfamiliar and overly formal phrase. Better to ask, “What does your child call you?”

  • Copy works well where it is concise, clear, and conversational (“Look for accounts,” “Ask Mom to move money,” etc.)

  • “Go” button labels should be changed to “Next,” or “Okay.”

  • In the children’s screens, use language that kids would use. “Gadget,” isn’t common parlance among kids, but “games” or “electronics” might be.

Design Patterns

  • Only the home screen should look like a home screen.

  • Avoid excessive back buttons.


  • More product information would be helpful in walkthrough.

  • On the screens where users allocate allowance and other funds to four different accounts (spend, save, give, or invest), include definitions of these four account categories.

  • Need a bit of explanatory copy on parental access passcode setting screen.

  • Be sure to use images and headers and break up large blocks of text, particularly in the children’s screens.

  • On setup screens, be sure to use a progress marker to make the number of steps clear.

Limitations and Considerations

My initial plan was to design an app that would intervene in conversations between parents and children in the context of shopping. There would be a children’s profile within the app. Children asking to make a purchase would be handed the app, opened to their profile, and play a short decision-making game in which they would either win or lose points depending on whether or not they choose to buy something.

Spending Wireframes.png

However, while designing the app, a challenge came to light: Children’s concept of time is different from that of adults, and kids would probably not find a game as time-distributed as the one suggested above very interesting or persuasive. In response to this challenge, I decided to design a children’s game within the app that would be immediate and interactive in more concrete ways, so that kids would find it meaningful and compelling.

Ethical Challenges

Kids trust technology much more than most parents would. In fact, the depth of children’s trust in technology is actually quite disturbing. In addition, using a technology-mediated way of simply saying “no” (“We’re not going to buy that.”) to one’s child could erode the quality of the parent-child relationship. It robs the child of an opportunity to practice managing their emotions.

Changing Course

The children’s game would not be played in the store but rather at home on a tablet or smartphone. This still improves the quality of communication around finances, in that it gets kids thinking about the value of money in the context of a place other than a store.

High Fidelity Screens