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Disney exhibit teaches kids financial lessons

Not even the happiest place on Earth is spared the lessons of saving and investing in this era of recession.
Finance Lessons Disney
Toni Corkil, right, of Marshall, Mo. and her daughter Grace, 8, learn about saving and investing through a series of interactive video games at the Great Piggy Bank Adventure.John Raoux / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Not even the happiest place on Earth is spared the lessons of saving and investing in this era of recession.

Walt Disney World's Epcot theme park on Tuesday opened an interactive game-based exhibit aimed at teaching kids ages 8 to 13 basic lessons in personal finance that would make Scrooge McDuck proud.

The Great Piggy Bank Adventure was conceived by Disney imagineers and its sponsor, financial giant T. Rowe Price, during the height of the boom years in 2006. But the timing of its opening has been impeccable — in the middle of the worst recession in a generation.

"It is sort of a timeless topic but now you realize it's even more important," said Meredith Callanan, T. Rowe Price's director of corporate marketing.

This is Disney after all, so there is no mortgage-backed derivative haunted house or credit-default swap high-wire act. That would blow away some of the pixie dust.

Instead, there is a noisy and colorful 3,800-square-foot space with interactive video games that seek to impart four basic lessons: setting goals, saving and spending wisely, staying ahead of inflation and diversifying investments. The video games star pigs who are learning the virtues of saving toward goals. A wolf who can raise inflation and take money away from the pigs is the villain in the games.

Participants start by choosing on a video screen the financial goals they want to achieve. The choices are redecorating a bedroom, saving for a vacation, putting money away for a college education and saving enough for retirement. They're given a plastic piggy bank which digitally keeps track of the money they're either saving or spending at each of the three video game stations.

One game requires the player to direct falling coins into saving and spending buckets, and in another they have to move levers to stop a wolf from raising inflation. The third game requires a player to hide coins in diverse areas of a bedroom so they can't be stolen by the wolf. At the end of the exhibit, participants place their piggy banks in a detection box which measures whether they have met their financial goals.

The exhibit has a companion Web site which offers games and lessons on finances.

Toni Corkill, a tourist from Marshall, Mo. said she thinks her 8-year-old daughter picked up tips on savings and diversification after going through the exhibit, which had a "soft opening" a few days earlier.

"She's getting it little by little," said Corkill, 41. "She was understanding that it was better to get the money in the savings buckets rather than the spending ones."