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Financial Tools for Youth shares learnings on a developing a financial literacy app for youth.

Photo of Meena Kadri
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Our friends at have a pursued a number of innovative solutions around financial inclusion. A while back they collaborated with Moneythink, an organisation bringing financial literacy to youth, on an six-week project to design a mobile app to support their curriculum. Working to improve financial decision-making in college-bound high school students, Moneythink brought in to expand their curriculum outside of the classroom with a financial literacy mobile app. 

Working closely with students, mentors and Moneythink staff in urban high schools of Chicago, delved into the experience of how teens make financial decisions. The team found that teens' financial behaviour is rooted in unique factors such as sporadic income, varying degrees of financial dependency, and an informal creativity in financial choices. Additional insights arose by understanding these behaviours in the context of the Moneythink curriculum, which relies heavily on mentor relationships and their adaptability on a student-to-student basis. 

Based on these insights, the team identified the need for a tool that both facilitates non-traditional savings and budgeting practices while leaving flexibility for creativity. Equally as important, the design needed to add value to the student-mentor relationship, as this continues to be at the core of Moneythink's program. Ultimately, the team narrowed down the scope of the challenge to ask: How might we accurately capture a teen's financial decision-making and then provide a roadmap to healthy savings habits?

The resulting Moneythink app created by is an interactive social platform where youth can engage in challenges that build financial awareness, skills, and habits for saving. Challenges are facilitated by mentors in conjunction with the curriculum, but use is driven by ongoing peer and mentor activity. Meanwhile, mentors can keep track of students' performance to gain a better overall understanding of their progress. 

Here's what Moneythink Chief Innovation Officer, Jennifer Shoop, observed after the first month in action… 

1. Mentees like the social nature of the app. They understand the interface almost intuitively and are already asking about whether they can "follow people," "block people," or "add filters" to their picture posts. Even before fully engaging in challenges, they are talking about liking and commenting on posts. One student said: "Oh, this is cute! It's the new Instagram!"

2. Mentees almost universally skip over the instructions. This has created a higher demand to answer questions in-person, which could be avoided, and is one thing to consider in future iterations of the interface.

3. Mentors need to "own" the tech in order to drive engagement. While launching the app in classrooms, the less involved I was (as a staff member of Moneythink) the better. The kids trust their mentors and the mentors know how to individually engage each student. In the last two classrooms, I took a backseat and largely observed. These have been the most participatory and active classes in the app so far. This is really good news for Moneythink because it suggests that scaling this without heavy involvement of staff may actually be a good thing. 

4. Getting kids to download the app proved to be a little tricky. Some kids didn't have enough space on their phones, while others did not have data plans or ran into issues connecting to the school's WiFi. And for students who had not brought in their phones on the day we implemented the app, they were much less likely to download the app after class, especially because the registration code was tough to remember. Our solutions to these barriers included setting up a HotSpot in the classroom and changing the password to something super easy and short, allowing kids to sign up after class without a problem.

5. Mentees like to see their peers posting. In a few instances - usually by accident - kids signed up for the wrong school and saw posts from a different class. They loved this! I was surprised to see them thumbing through the news feed with interest, liking posts from students they didn't even know.Stay tuned for more learnings to come!

Originally shared on the awesome site of


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Photo of Trevor z Hallstein

Hi .. WRT the boiled-down-question, "How might we accurately capture a teen's financial decision-making and then provide a roadmap to healthy savings habits?" do you have some links or references to the data visualizations available? I am wondering how much of the complexity of managing a budget, saving, investing, and achieving milestones can be conveyed graphically in order to sidestep a variety of the financial / math aspects involved?

Photo of Meena Kadri

Here's some more details on the app, Trevor:

Photo of Andy Witt

Thanks for sharing this, Meena! I thought the Design Principles for Challenges were worth pulling out as we move into Ideation:

1. Be simple and direct   
2. Make it interactive and actionable
3. Bridge theory and reality
4. Make it relevant and adaptable to youth’s contexts
5. Make it intrinsically rewarding
6. Produce evidence of accomplishments
7. Surface hidden talents
8. Build on existing behaviors
9. Guide them to mastery of skills
10. Let youth drive the experience
11. Make it collaborative
12. Leverage social: spark sharing, conversation, and feedback

Photo of Meena Kadri

Useful indeed!

Photo of Trevor z Hallstein

I wonder if the app is something that "Game Theory Academy" would be interested in trying out.

Their mission is to, "improve the economic decision-making skills and provide opportunities to low-income youth who have experience with juvenile justice, foster care and homelessness."

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