Spartans Dollars and Cents offers simulation of real world budgeting

Spartan Dollars and Cents is a great activity to assist youth in understanding how to create a budget.

A graphic of a piece of paper with a dollar sign, a pen and a calculator.

Developing a budget is a life skill teens need to master. A Greenlight study in 2021 indicated that while 42% of teens have learned about budgets, nearly a quarter (23%) do not know how to actually make one. Spartan Dollars and Cents: A Realistic Budget Simulation developed by Michigan State University Extension Michigan 4-H Youth Development, gives youth the opportunity to experience what it is like to have to create a monthly budget based on income. The value of creating a budget to track monthly income and expenses is reinforced through problem-solving, decision-making, and wise use of resources as youth proceed through the activity.


In the activity, participants receive a random entry-level job and salary. This job description/income card indicates their annual income. It also describes the work environment and the training/education needed to perform that job. Youth then explore health insurance options and select their insurance coverage. After some simple math, they determine how these deductions and taxes affect their net monthly income.

The youth then make realistic lifestyle decisions through a questionnaire, which determines their monthly expenses. Participants will also make important decisions about housing, transportation, and other types of insurance. They may need to explore alternative options to enjoy the standard of living they envision.

During the simulation, unanticipated life occurrences happen based on the roll of a die or the draw of a card. They may receive a speeding ticket, experience a flooded apartment, or even have a heart attack. The decisions they have made affect how these occurrences affect their monthly budget. Not all these life occurrences have a negative impact on their budget, some “action cards” increase their monthly income.

Spartan Dollars and Cents can be facilitated by an instructor for individuals, classrooms, or groups of teens. It requires minimal supplies and can be completed in an hour or two. It is suggested to have additional volunteers to assist with math. It works best with high school-aged youth but can also be used with middle schoolers.

Spartan Dollars and Cents is a downloadable activity provided by MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development to help to prepare young people for successful futures. The “Facilitator Guide” section gives fundamental details about the simulation and explains how to use the accompanying appendices.

To learn more about related programs, check out the Michigan 4-H careers Facebook. The Michigan 4-H Money Management website also provides additional information and resources for financial education.

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