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 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, 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.

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.


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.

Intro to Decimals

Tenths vs Tens…Hundredths vs Hundreds. Problematic for many students. I believe this is a conceptual problem. This post provides an approach to unpack the concepts through money in a scaffolded handout.


Money is likely prior knowledge for many if not most students, and is a relevant context. This handout attempts to leverage interest or knowledge of money to unpack decimal place values. In the first page, the concept of “tenth” is addressed with dimes as 1/10 of a dollar. Similarly, “hundredth” is addressed with pennies as 1/100 of a dollar. A key point to consider is that US monetary system base unit is a dollar. More on that in the other pages.

Hundreds to Hundredths

The handout aligns each place value with the appropriate currency. This is followed by writing each number in numeric form and then word form with the place value table as a guide. To enhance the word part, you can highlight the each place value in money, digit, and word in the same color (e.g., the “2” in yellow).

Also, note the shading. The dollar as the base unit is in the center and shaded the darkest. The tens and tenths are shaded the same as they are a factor of 10 from ones. (I don’t reference the term with students.) Same for hundreds and hundredths.


The last page addresses thousandths.

Access to Handout

here is a link to the handout.

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.


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.

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.

Customized Number Lines for Handouts

Per request, I created a short video showing how I create customized number lines on WORD. This post also includes a link to a WORD document with 3 customized number lines: time, money with negatives, and miles.

Elapsed time

The image below is from a post on elapsed time. I wanted to create different time scales to match clocks I could create on

The Video

In the video I show how I created the time number line. In the top image below, you can see the table highlighted. I then show how I copy and paste the number line and then edit to create units with money, with negatives.

Here is a screenshot of the video. You can see the number line in an early stage of development. Below the image is a link the video.

Link to video


Below is an image of the three customized number lines. Here is a link to the handout, which is in WORD format to allow you to revise to suit your work with students.

If you find this helpful, please consider making a small donation to a fund to build an accessible playground at a camp site for individuals with disabilities.

Online Personalized Consumer Math Board Game

The game is played on a Jamboard. There are moveable game pieces on the left (Lego figures chosen to mirror the players – no hair is me), along with movable bills. There is a white rectangle partially covering the cashier’s money. It is a moveable rectangle I use to reveal the money when the cashier pays out money to a player. The money is subsequently covered again. When money is paid, the appropriate number of bills are moved to the cashier’s counter. Change can be computed and given. (technical note: you can click on an object on Jamboard to change its order, e.g., click on the bills to move them back, behind the rectangle.)

The game is a version of the Allowance Game, which is appears to be a version of Monopoly. The goal is to simulate budgeting and real life spending situations in an interactive and gamified way. The spaces can be revised to cater to the interests and reality of the players. The activities are all ones that I have used in isolation with students I help. The game can be played online and with multiple players who need to learn consumer math topics. (When you share the Jamboard with others, you can make them editors which allows them to move pieces.)

Players start with money in a bank account (center of the board) and then roll a virtual die and move accordingly. If a player does not have enough money for a spending activity, the activity cannot be completed. For some experiences, they are limited in what they can spend, e.g., buying a birthday present. (For rent, I will use an IOU until the player makes enough money – obviously a lot to possibly unpack in this scenario.) Spaces have an activity that falls into one of three categories:

  • earn money at a job by rolling dice for the number of hours worked
  • have a static money experience, e.g., get $20 from birthday or spend $12 on tooth brush
  • have a dynamic money experience, e.g., spend money on Amazon or attend a baseball game and the player goes to a related website (for example, a player buys a Red Sox ticket and a YouTube video of highlights of a game is shown – maybe 2 minutes)

A couple notes: I left the START space empty and am thinking I will move the find a job activity to that space. As of this posting I did not have students find a job yet and simply opened a link to a Target store site for employment and showed them a job ad. I think I will start the game with each player finding a job and rolling the die to earn money at the start.

Below are the steps I use to create and revise the game. If you have any suggestions, please post in the comment section.

Here is a link to a master copy of the game on a Google Doc. It can be copied and then revised. I store my game pieces on here as well.

Here is a link to a master copy of a WORD document I use to position the board with a cashier to create the image shown on the Jamboard.

The image created can be uploaded to Jamboard using the Set background function.

Here is a link to the dice rolling site I use. Each player can open it or I will roll for everyone.

Counting Money – Jamboard

If you have a student who is learning to count money, here is a virtual set up to do so. I suggest having the student do a test run by moving coins into a box and bills into a box. It is easy to duplicate each item by clicking on the item to duplicate it.

If it works, you can insert images of items to purchase. Note, I start with just pennies or just $1 bills and incrementally add additional currency. This is useful for developing number sense.

I also present items to purchase that are of interest to the student – the image below was used with a student who loves Minecraft.

Counting Out Value of Coins

Counting out the total value of a set of coins can be challenging for some students. A strategy to address this is a modified 100s chart with images of coins and decimal values.

Versions of handouts

There are 4 versions, listed in the order I used them with my students. I suggest you start with just pennies (less than 10) to acclimate them to the chart. Here is a video showing how to use chart.

  • dimes and pennies
  • nickels, pennies
  • dimes, nickels and pennies
  • quarters and pennies
FB Reel showing how it works or Youtube video

If you find this helpful, please consider making a small donation to a fund to build an accessible playground at a camp site for individuals with disabilities.

UK Version

A request was made for a UK version. Below is the first iteration and may subsequently be revised. There are two versions: 1p 10p and 1p 5p 10p, both with 1 pound at the bottom for 100.


There is also a Jamboard version to allow you to work on this online. You have to make a copy of the Jamboard (see bottom image). (UK version – beta)

Make a copy to use the Jamboards.