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.

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.

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 at the Store

The way a student counts money in school on a school desk or table (top photo) is the way he or she will attempt count at the register as seen in the 2nd photo in which the student pulled all bills from his wallet then counted, with some bills folded. (Bonus if you can identify the woman in the photo!!!)

In the top photo (below) I had the student pull bills out from his wallet, with the bills unfolded and in order in his wallet (you can see he pulled a $20 bill first). In the next photo you can see that he is counting out the bills from the wallet as he did in practice.

Monthly Budget Project

The images shown are excerpts from the latest iteration of a budget project I have used for years. The content addressed in this project can be used as stand alone activities and are relevant real life examples for our students. Even the younger students could benefit, e.g., learning addition by shopping for items online and recording the prices (for older students throw in computing tax). These topics are especially useful for multiplication word problems, rate, single variable equations, and linear functions (slope being rate of change such as car payment per month).

Here is an overview. You graduate from high school and are living on your own. You have a job, but your car is getting old. You need to figure out how to save for a down payment in your budget and for when you must pay a car payment and insurance. (You will have to get your OWN insurance.)

The image below shows the table for all monthly expenses.

The students have imbedded activities such as

  • estimating monthly food costs by estimating cost for meals for a single day
  • shopping for disposable household items
  • shopping for car insurance based on the car they shop for (more on that at the end) NOTE: they do not share personal information other than a school email address (or my email address) to receive the quote
  • searching for a job with a hourly pay and estimate after tax income

They shop for a car last as the idea is they need to save up for a down payment. The amount they can save is based on how much money is left over after paying all other bills. How much they save will be converted to how much they can spend on a car payment and monthly insurance payment.

Life Skills Math – Not So Easy

As I wrote previously, shopping is dense with math tasks as are grocery stores. Here are some division situations that are sneaky challenging and require a student to know when and why to divide before even reaching for the calculator. I will use these to help illustrate the fact that life skills math is not simply counting money or using a calculator to add up prices. There is a great deal of problem solving and thinking skills that need to be developed.

For example, if a student has $60 to spend on gifts for her 3 teachers the student needs to understand that she can spend up to $20 per teacher (before even talking about taxes).

An entry point for division can involve a dividing situation the students intuitively understand, e.g., sharing food. Start with 2 friends sharing 8 Buffalo wings evenly (below).

This can lead into the 3 teachers sharing the $60 evenly (below). In turn, this can be followed by the online shopping shown above.

This approach can be used to develop an understanding of unit cost (cited in the shopping is dense post). Start with a pack of items to allow the students to see the cost for a single item before getting into unit cost by ounces, for example.

I have had success with teaching these division related concepts using sheer repetition as much of our learning is experiential learning. Using a Google Jamboard as shown in the photos allows for the repetition.

Shopping is Dense with Math Tasks

I recently worked with a student on an online grocery shopping activity – finding ingredients for mac and cheese. We had the ingredients listed in a column on a Google Doc (allows both of us to edit the doc simultaneously) and then he cropped and pasted a photo of each ingredient (see photo below). The goal was for him to identify the total he need and the total cost in planning for actual shopping or to continue with the online shopping. Note: he wasn’t actually buying anything at this point but this was a step in preparing him to do so.

This activity is dense with math tasks and shopping related tasks. The math tasks include the following:

  • Identify the price (vs quantity of the item or unit price).
  • Interpret the quantity for the ingredient.
  • Identify the units (oz and cups)
  • Convert units
  • Compare amount in box with amount needed.
  • Determine how much more is needed, if any.
  • Compare choices before selecting the item, (Barilla Pasta vs another brand).

To convert units, the “mathy” approach can be used or the student may simply use an app. For this student we chose an online unit converter (see below). This is more complicated that it appears. The student must choose the units and the order (in this case convert cups to ounces or vise versa), distinguish between imperial and US cups, understand that you enter the quantity (the search results in 1 US ounce appearing by default), and then interpret the decimal (keep in mind the ingredient quantities are in fractions).

Life skills math is more complex and challenging that parents and educators may realize. As a result, the planning for developing these skills should begin much sooner rather than later – not to mention the actual logistical tasks of shopping, e.g. finding an item in the grocery store.

Shopping at the Grocery Store

There are numerous hidden tasks that we undertake while at the grocery store. We process them so quickly or subconsciously that we are not aware of these steps.

As a result, we may overlook these steps while educating students on life skills such as grocery shopping. Subsequently, these steps may not be part of the programming or teaching at school and therefore generalization is left for another day. Yet, the purpose of IDEA is, in essence, preparing students for life, including “independent living.”

To address this, we can take a task analysis approach in which we break down the act of shopping at a grocery store into a sequence of discrete steps or tasks (see excerpt of the task analysis document below).

Step 1 is to administer a baseline pretest during which we start with no prompting to determine if the student performs each task and how well each is performed. As necessary, prompting is provided and respective documentation is entered into the table (to indicate prompting as opposed to independent completion). For example, I worked with a client who understood the meaning of the shopping list but started off for the first item without a basket or cart. I engaged him with a discussion about how he would carry the items. At one point I had him hold 7 grapefruits and it became apparent to him that he needed a cart. (I documented this in the document.)

Other issues that arose were parking the cart in the middle of the aisle, finding the appropriate section of the store but struggling to navigate the section for the item (e.g. at one point I prompted him to read the signs over the freezer doors), and mishandling the money when prompted to pay by the cashier announcing the total amount to pay.

Step 2 is to identify a task or sequence of tasks to practice in isolation based on the results of the pretest. For example, this could involve walking to a section of the store and prompting the student to find an item. Data collection would involve several trials of simply finding the item without addressing any other steps of the task analysis.

Step 3 would be to chain multiple steps together, but not the entire task analysis yet. For example, having the student find the appropriate section and then finding the item in the section.

Eventually, a post-test can be administered to assess the entire sequence to identify progress and areas needing more attention.