Learning about money management can be fun and hands-on

Updated personal finance activity helps teens learn about putting together a monthly budget.

A calculator with a spoon on top of it that is balancing money on one end and a potato on the other.
Photo credit: Pixabay

Many youths have not had the opportunity to explore personal finance. In fact, in their 2019-20 Financial Education Access Progress Report, Next Gen Personal Finance states that just under one in five high school students are required to take at least one semester of personal finance before graduation. Learning about money management can seem overwhelming at first, but there are lots of ways to make it fun and engaging. Many Michigan State University Extension programs are hands-on in nature, and this topic area is no exception. An updated version of the Spartan Dollars and Cents activity is now available for staff and volunteers to pilot, and it provides a great activity for teens to learn about money.

Spartan Dollars and Cents is a simulation, where participants are given a job and its accompanying salary. They then have a series of decisions to make in order to complete a monthly budget. Categories for these decisions include health insurance, where to live, what to drive, food, entertainment, clothing, savings, and more. As they make decisions, they are also filling out a worksheet which becomes their budget for a month of living.

When students engage in hands-on learning, they are connecting what they’ve previously learned to real-world situations. Spartan Dollars and Cents gives participants an opportunity to make real-life decisions without the risk those decisions carry in reality. They can, in fact, re-evaluate their decisions several times to see the effects on their budget. Being able to see these effects for themselves is often much more powerful than a lecture or a book on the subject.

This simulation can prove to be a reality check for some students. Seeing realistic prices and choices allows them to make meaningful decisions based on their own values and priorities. Some students will find they are willing to search out the good deals in order to afford what they want, while others will prioritize savings for a future goal (like vacation). Still others will explore the options of sharing costs and space with roommates.

Adult facilitators do not have to be financial experts in order to organize this experience for youth. The updated directions for the activity include an overview of all of the steps, as well as ideas for reflection questions to ask throughout the experience or at the end. In addition, MSU Extension educators Dave Radloff and Sara Keinath are available to answer questions! If you are interested in trying this activity out in the pilot phase, please contact either Dave or Sara.

MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H youth development helps to prepare young people for successful futures. For more information or resources on career exploration, workforce preparation, financial education, or entrepreneurship, email us at 4-HCareerPrep@msu.edu.

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