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Budget basics for the Facebook generation

From restaurant reviews to hot travel deals, the Internet and social media are mind-boggling resources. Add the basics of good, old-fashioned budgeting to the info that's readily available on your smartphone, and you may have found the answer in how to get your teenager to learn the basics of money management.

"The Facebook generation is used to immediate access to information and has little patience for long, complicated brochures," says certified financial planner and Assante Capital Management senior financial planner Tina Tehranchian.

"There are all sorts of free financial planning apps and calculators available that can be used to track expenses, manage cash flow, and balance the household budget. You can learn about the basics of saving online."

There's no denying the need to get financial information out there in a way that will appeal to today's media-savvy youth. According to a 2011 poll by Investors Group, 42 per cent of Canadians who save and invest use social and online media to find information, with the youngest group surveyed — those aged 18 to 29 — have a more positive opinion of the popular social media sites than older people.

That doesn't mean that big financial decisions should be based on the latest tweet, of course. Credible, competent advice and unbiased information still reign in that regard.

But the digital realm has no end of cool tools to help young people grasp the basics of budgeting, such as:

Developed by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada and the British Columbia Securities Commission, this free, fun, interactive program features human characters (who hang out in a café) facing different financial circumstances and allows kids to navigate through scenarios such as "lifestyle reality check" and "needs, wants, and priorities". Besides a glossary covering even the most basic of financial terms, it also has a very hip design.

The goal of this game is to have enough money left over after 30 days of earning, spending, and saving to "buy" a coveted big-ticket item, like a concert ticket or a pair of kicks. It even throws in items kids have to buy themselves but that they didn't account for, like batteries for your new MP3 player that mom said you have to buy yourself.

This free app by MassMutual features 3D graphics and teaches young'uns how to avoid impulse purchases.

Working in conjunction with the Parents to Kids website, this free app helps kids learn how to spend, save and make smart financial decisions using easy-to-read screens that colour red for money coming in (mowing the lawn = +$10) and green for money going out (video game = -$25).

The free, interactive online educational tool for those aged six to 12 created by ING Direct takes kids through activities like Recycle Me (which helps kids learn how to save by discovering what can be recycled); Quick Change (gets them practicing math by adding coins as fast as possible); Check Out (teaches needs versus wants), and Stock Up (shows them the fun involved in running their own business. It also has tools to create a budget plus a parent interface so moms and dads can get involved too.

Facebook and Twitter

You can find financial advice here, but the trick to getting decent, objective information on these platforms is to look behind the hashtag or group: young people are more trusting of social media than other demographics and it still takes a sound human voice to help them to distinguish credible content from sales pitches.

"Talking openly about family finances helps too," Tehranchian says. "Discussing budgeting and the need to make smart choices when it comes to spending money can ensure that children grow up with the right frame of mind when it comes to saving and spending money."

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