Monthly Budget – Introduction

Helping students understand and implement a monthly budget is challenging, especially for students with disabilities that make it harder for students to conceptualize abstract ideas. I previously posted about a full budget activity. This post shows a means of scaffolding the concept of partitioning money in a budget context. The idea is to keep it simple for now and build from there.

Set Up

A parent of a student I support came up with the following idea. We start with a couple major budget items (rent, groceries, utilities) and the temporary idea that the remaining money is discretionary (not the word we use with the student). Money is printed (legal if the printed bills are small enough and only 1 sided) in lieu of fake money that does not look like the bills they would see.

The activity is guided by slides on a Google Slides presentation (link at bottom of this post). Note: the activity can be rerun as needed and the Google Slides slides can be copied, pasted, and information removed. This allows you to keep a record of each trial with this activity.

Job and Pay

The student can either search for a job on a site like Indeed.com or an ad for a job can be provided. The hourly rate is established and the student is prompted to compute the total pay on Google Calculator to allow a screenshot to be produced.

The student then uses the chart to provide a visual and scaffolding to compute the total pay for a month. I go with 4 weeks of 5 work days each, with no taxes to keep it simple.

The student counts out the money, first by grouping hundreds together to get a $1,000. Then the total is moved next to the envelopes.

The pay is entered into a bank balance table to provide practice with the format of a check register. This helps provide structure and having the money counted out on the table allows the student to see a concrete representation of the bank balance table. (Note: I slide the money to the left to allow space to move the money to the envelopes as the student pays bills.)

Paying Bills

The first bill is rent. The student is prompted to search for an apartment on a website like Apartment.com, take a screenshot, and paste into a slide.

The student then pays the bill by counting out the money and sliding the money towards the envelope.

The student then enters the rent into the bank balance. I then point to the money pile on the right in image above and refer to it as rent. I then point to the rent entry into the bank balance. Similarly, I point to the pile on the left, refer to it as the balance and count it out, then point to the new balance in the table. This provides a concrete representation for the bank balance.

I found a website that provides average bill amounts for our state. The student clicks on the link, takes a screen shot of the average costs, and pastes it into the slide.

We focused only on heat and electricity. The student identifies both amounts (I round to the nearest 5 to keep it simple) and then pays both by moving the money over.

Both bills are entered into the bank balance. I then point to the two piles of money used to pay the bills, point to the entries into the table below, point to the pile of remaining money, and point to the entry into the balance in the table below.

Finally, the student makes a shopping list of food items for all 3 meals for the week. To make it easy, we can assume the the same meal each day. The student is provided a lot of leeway in what he or she chooses and what amounts. The amounts they choose may not be enough for a week. That can be addressed in grocery shopping activities conducted in isolation.

The student shops online for the items and takes a screenshot of the cart.

The student completes the table to determine the total cost for a month.

The student moves the money over and then this total cost is entered into the bank balance. The same comparisons between money piles and cost and balance are presented. Then the remaining money is free to use for whatever the student wants. At this point, you can have the student go shopping for clothes or whatever.

The Google Slides File

Here is the Link to the Google Slides file. You can make a copy to access it.

Overspending Activity at B&N

Budgeting and explaining the act of overspending are complex topics to address. This post details an authentic experience for overspending, but in a safe setting.

Background

I have previously posted about a running bank balance, gift card balance, and a comprehensive set of budgeting activities. These are activities that simulate various aspects of budgeting. When I co-taught life skills math, we took the students on a field trip to the grocery store. It was then I saw the quantum leap in task demand for shopping in an authentic setting compared to the simulated activities we created at school.

Real-life Budget Activity

To help a student unpack the concept of a spending limit and the act of overspending, I created an in person shopping experience at Barnes and Noble. I purchased a gift card with a balance of $1 (image below). The student I was helping was tasked with purchasing an item that cost over $1. He had experience with ordering and paying on his own with enough money provided. This time he was in a position to overspend. I was ready with cash and stepped in. This allowed him to experience, firsthand, the overspending and budget situation.

Clearly, we must take into account the level of anxiety a student may have with such an activity before undertaking it.

Running Bank Balance Activity

The use of cash as a payment method is declining. This has implications for how we teach money, consumer math, and life skills math. This is especially true for students with special needs who need more concrete representations of math. This post presents an activity to practice with a running bank balance.

Cash vs Card Transactions

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco conducted a study on payment choices. The study, using a sample of people, reports that the use of cash as the payment method was most frequent for purchases under $10 and then it was used in less than half of the purchases. Given the increase in online ordering, it seems that cash use will drop further. This has implications for the students we support.

Overview

Previously, I posted about using a gift card activity to as an entry point to the concept of budgeting. Students are asked to compute a running balance. This post provides details about a similar activity, but for a bank balance using a bank register (as opposed to a check register).

Bank Balance Activity

The student plays an online game for counting money (image below). In lieu of counting out money each time, the student uses a bank register (image below) to track balance as if the student is using a debit card for purchases. The game has 3 types of squares: spending, earning or receiving money, and a gift card that would not affect the balance.

This allows for engagement with budgeting and a limit on spending. It can also lead to a discussion about negatives.

Alternative Activity

An alternative activity is to weave the use of the register into daily activities with students, especially in a life skills program. A colleague of mine who ran the life skills program at a high school would have students check in each day on a time clock and they would have a job. They could be paid and maintain a balance (scaffolded as needed). This could be done in a resource setting in general, without an actual job or maybe a different type of job than is often used in transition settings.

Access to Document

Here is a link to the Google Doc. You need to make a copy to use it.

Gift Card Balance Activity

Shopping is surprisingly more complex that we realize for many students who are working on life skills math. Staying within a spending limit is one issue. The concept of a running balance is another. In this post, I detail an activity in which a gift card in real life and ones in simulations are used in shopping activities. The purpose is to engage students with spending limits and balances.

Real Life Activity

I provided a student with a $10 gift card to buy a hot chocolate at Barnes and Noble. This experience allowed the student to order, pay, and monitor the balance. At some point the card will not have a balance to cover another drink. Not only does this provide real life experience, it provides an anchor for other instructional activities.

The student identified the price, the tax, the total, and the balance. Then he computed the balance to see for himself how this works.

Simulations in Instructional Settings

In our instructional setting, the student is provided an image of a gift card on a Google Slide and is prompted to buy 1 item at a time. This allows for immediate computation and tracking of a running balance.

In the image below, you can see a prompt for the student reflect on how the balance is computed by referring to the in person experience. I have the student compute on Google Calculator to allow me to record the work.

The running balance is recorded on the Google Calculator image ($18.75 below) and the next item is purchased with a new running balance computed.

Generalization

I am in a position to conduct in person instruction at other settings. Obviously, most teachers do not have this opportunity. My recommendation is to collaborate with a parent to facilitate such activities. For example, if the family is going out to eat, the student can be provided a gift card and allow him or her to choose an item and pay independently. Another possibility is that the parent provides a student an e-gift card to spend during class with the teacher.

Weekly Food Budget Activity

Budgeting is a challenging topic for many students with special needs. The process has many components, multiple steps, and involves application of money and shopping math topics. This post describes an activity to develop competence in budgeting by shopping for a food for a week with a money limit.

Google Document

The activity is presented on a Google Doc and can be completed with online shopping at a grocery store of choice or at Stop and Shop. A gift card image is used to lead into a discussion or lessons on balance. This is a preview of a full budget activity shared on another post.

Identifying Food Items

The first step is to identify the foods to eat. To keep it simple, only the meals for a single day are identified and will be extrapolated to cover the whole week. This will not take into account snacks to reduce the task demand. This also leads into lessons on nutrition, e.g., identifying macronutrients and what they provide our bodies.

Shopping

The student identifies the food item for each meal and enters the item, cost, and of servings. A discussion or minilesson on number of servings may be conducted first.

After shopping, the student determines if there are enough servings to cover all 7 days. If not, the number packages (bottles, etc.) are determined. This can be done by multiplying by 2, 3, 4 until more than 7 is computed. Then the total cost for the food item is computed.

Then the grand total is computed at the bottom. This leads to a discussion about the budget as the student compares the total with the amount or balance on the gift card(s).

Realistic Monthly Budget Activities

I have found that most students have little understanding of the living expenses and take home pay. This post provides details of a monthly budget plan that is useful for all levels of students and can be customized accordingly.

Here is a link to a Google Document with all components: job, take home pay, list of categories of expenses, and directions for activities to estimate the pay and expenses, and a comparison of take home pay and expenses with a look at other possible expenses. This can be revised to meet the needs or ability level of the students, as well as the user’s location. I have used this in whole class instruction in a general ed settings and for individuals working on life skills math.

Budget Activity

The Assignment starts with finding a job. I work with one student who has a postsecondary goal of college. He searched for a salaried position. Other students may be working for an hourly wage.

There is a take home pay calculator used in this assignment (2nd photo below). It is based on annual pay. I scaffold the conversion of hourly pay, which is a good calendar activity in of itself.

The chart below is the master list of expenses. Some expenses are computed on subsequent pages and some have the link in the row. The amounts are estimates intended to allow the student to engage in a monthly budget.

At the end, the student compares pay and expenses. I find that this is an eye opener for many students. They are not simply asked to take the word of parents or teachers on what life has in store for them, they see it for themselves.

Individual Activities

The individual sections are useful in isolation. I use buying a car to as an introduction to 2-step linear equations with down payment + monthly cost times number of months = price of car. For students learning to count money, the shopping activities can be used. I task students to shop online at a store like Target as if they had a $50 gift card (see image below). Once completed, they count out money to pay for items in the cart and they compute the balance on the card. This is an entry point into budgeting as they compare money they have with money they spend. I will keep a running list of prompts on Google Slides as data for how well the student stays under budget.