Quick Family Project: Make Holiday Cards for the Troops

Last Thanksgiving, we started a family tradition that feels really good and is most certainly appreciated by the recipients: making hand-crafted holiday cards for the troops.

At the end of our Thanksgiving festivities, we gather the extended family, sit down together for an hour or so, and make cards by hand with a holiday drawing on the front and an appreciative message inside. This is one of those thoughtful, hands-on exercises that works well for family members of all ages. You can see this year's batch of cards at right.

We send the cards along to an organization like Operation Holiday Card who, in turn, routes them to our troops. Here's a wonderful picture from their site:

Look at those smiles.

There are many such organizations, so you may want to Google around and find one that works for you. Check their deadlines carefully: for example, Operation Holiday Card must receive the cards from you by Dec 2.

Some organizations send along gift boxes as well in which items are selected from a vetted list. That's what we did last year. This can be a great way for kids using FamZoo to deploy the balances they have built up in their charitable accounts. When the kids buy charitable items with their own funds, it makes the experience that much more meaningful for them.


Weekly Upgrade: Cheaper Than A Couple Lattes and Better For You

This week, we started working on the form pages that will be filled in when free trial families convert to a paid subscription. (Remember, our Charter Families don't need to worry about this, but we welcome your feedback on design and pricing - see below.)

Subscribe to FamZoo Form

When a free trial member clicks on the Subscribe Now link, they'll see the following initial form:

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As you can see on the screen shot above, we've settled on a subscription price of $5.99 per month per family. For a family of four, that works out to around $1.50 a month per member. It's cheap, but it isn't free, which is what a lot of folks have come to expect on the Internet. A free approach would require us to plaster the site with a bunch of ads and affiliate links. As we alluded to earlier, encouraging a bunch of impulse buying to fuel our business just isn't consistent with teaching kids how to moderate their spending. We'd rather cater to a smaller audience of paying customers and stay true to our mission. We will be providing a generous free trial period so families can adequately assess the value before committing. And, we'll make it easy to cancel at any time.

We welcome your thoughts and opinions...


One of the minor things we fixed this week was the ability to just hit Enter on your keyboard to add an item to a checklist (instead of having to use the mouse to click on the Add Item button - which you can still do). You can see an example of the dialog we're talking about here:

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Yeah, it's minor, but sometimes it's the little things that make all the difference.

Oh, and now is a great time to create your Holiday Wish list (like the one above) and share it with the family. You can even set it up to send a text message to the rest of the family whenever you add an item - just for that little extra prodding!

Have a great Thanksgiving!

P.S. Do you like FamZoo? Show us some love by becoming a fan on our facebook page.


Weekly Upgrade: Payment History, Angry Mom

We continued to work on our subscription and coupon support over the last week. Here are a couple of the highlights in today's upgrade:

Payment History Page

Parents can now see a list of recent monthly payments under our new "Store" tab (this tab is not shown for children). The upper section of the page shows any coupons you have redeemed and how many free months remain on each. The lower section shows your payments starting with the most recent month. The list of payments includes entries for free months that are "paid for" with a coupon. The page is still a work-in-progress, but this is what the first cut looks like:

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Expired Free Trials and the Angry Mom

Ok, so we had a little fun with the grace period that we support between the end of the free trial and the decommissioning of a family's account. One of Henry's cartoons that always gives me a chuckle is his "Angry Mom Tiger". So, to grab attention and have a little fun, we tossed her into the design of the upper page stripe for parents whose free trial has expired. Here's what it looks like:

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Yeah, we're working on Henry to supply us with an Angry Dad too!


Weekly Upgrade: Subscriptions, Coupons, Facebook

It was another "under-the-hood" week for FamZoo, so you won't (or shouldn't!) see any visible changes after today's upgrade.

Subscription and Coupon Work In Progress

Last week, we made more progress on billing and payment integration with Paypal as well as the mechanics of redeeming coupons and supporting free trial periods for new subscribers.

For example, here's something you should not see as Charter Members when you sign back into FamZoo since you have "magic" unlimited coupons:

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If you do see the subscription stripe across the top of your page, please contact us! (It means that your unlimited coupon has not been automatically redeemed properly and we'll fix it.)

Become a FamZoo Fan on Facebook

Come visit our page on Facebook and become a FamZoo fan to help us spread the word!


Weekly Upgrade: Meet Henry, Tweet Us, Paypal

There aren't many visible changes in the upgrade this afternoon (Monday, November 2nd) because we've been spending much of our time on behind-the-scenes work for supporting subscriptions and coupons.

Here's the quick rundown:

Meet the FamZoo Cartoonist: Henry Payne

You've seen his wonderful drawings all over our site, but we finally got around to adding an entry for Henry Payne on our Team page in the About section. Here it is:

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Some New Product and Charitable Recommendations

You've probably noticed that we show recommendations for family-friendly products as well as charitable organizations in the right hand sidebar of our site's pages. When you buy a product after clicking through one of these links on our site, FamZoo receives a small percentage of the revenue. This is known as affiliate marketing and is one of the revenue models that we're experimenting with. Right now, we just have a few products that Chris and I have recommended for testing purposes. We just added a couple more this week for some favorite books as well as two charitable "ads" for DonorsChoose and NothingButNets.

Ultimately, if we decide to pursue this model, we'll open things up for any member to nominate products that we will display at our discretion. We'll also allow members to comment and vote on products appearing on the site. Unpopular products (as judged by our members) would be dropped from the site.

All that said, we really have no intention of gumming up the site with a bunch of random advertising. That just wouldn't be in keeping with our mission of promoting sensible spending habits. So, our overwhelming preference is to buck the Internet trend and rely on modest subscription fees to build a viable business.

Subscriptions Via Paypal

We've decided to go with Paypal for handling subscription payments and have begun writing the underlying code to integrate with their services. We'll be working on the plumbing first and the screens will follow in the next few weeks.

Follow Us on Twitter

We set up a twitter account for FamZoo last week. We'll "tweet" short updates about the site there. In the near future, we'll also announce coupons and other special offers there too. Feel free to "tweet" us whenever the spirit moves you! Come follow us at: http://twitter.com/famzoo