A Budgeting Game for Teens That I Totally Made Up (And Maybe Your Kids Will Like It Too).

budgeting game for teens - easy and free featured by top lifestyle blogger, Design Mom

One summer, when my two oldest kids were teens, we were casually chatting about college. We were wondering aloud where they might attend, and talking about dorm life, and what it’s like to get an apartment, choose your class schedule, and do your own grocery shopping.

Suddenly, I had this moment of panic about teaching my kids to create a monthly budget. They earn money, and spend money, and save money, but at the time, I had never really talked them through a full monthly budget and what it’s like to live within one. I had this compelling I NEED TO TEACH THEM THIS RIGHT NOW BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE feeling. Hah!

So I sat down at my laptop and came up with a teen budgeting game/challenge. It’s a rough-draft sort of thing, but it turns out they really enjoyed going through it. A year has passed, and we’re still talking about the budget game, and getting requests from the younger kids for their turn.

What’s the challenge? Essentially, it’s a game that takes about an hour to play, where they go through 12 months of budget, and each month they have new challenges thrown their way. The goal is to go through all 12 months of pretend budgets and end with a minimum amount in pretend savings, plus a certain number of pretend “Social/Mental Well-Being Points” (more on those in a bit). I created a Budget Worksheet to help us play, plus a sheet of “Banker’s Instructions” and an explanation of “Budget Options” (you can download all 3 below).

This budgeting game was designed to boost my teens’ awareness of consequences that come from money management (or mis-management), based on things that they value (like their favorite chocolate milk). What do I mean? I’ll explain. And I promise, it’s actually way more fun than it sounds.

How to Set-up your Teen Budgeting Game

First up, I set the scene: They have moved out of the house and are earning $300 per month. In this imaginary world of the game, $300 is enough to create a workable budget. (I realize in reality $300 doesn’t cut it, but it’s a good round number to work with for the sake of this activity.)

Second, I explain there are 9 Budget Categories: 1) Savings, 2) Rent + Heat + Electricity + Internet, 3) Food, 4) Car + Gas + Insurance, 5) Cell Phone + Service, 6) Movies + Shows + Entertainment, 7) Eating Out + Coffee Shops, 8) Clothes, and 9) Miscellaneous. I want to note here: You may pick completely different categories for your particular kids. Maybe you wouldn’t include Eating Out or Clothes. Maybe you’d add in a video gaming category, or a category for medical costs. Maybe you’d replace the car category with a bike category. Think about what foods, and tech, and objects that your specific kids are into and customize the game to fit their motivational needs.

Each budget category has different rules that apply, so I go through the Budget Options sheet with them and they keep it handy for reference throughout the activity. This is where their eyes started to light up. Here are the contents of the Budget Options sheet:

——-

BUDGET OPTIONS
Instructions: Choose ONE of the three money options listed for each category, and create a budget, keeping within your income of $300 per month. Pay attention to the notes on each category, and get additional instructions from The Banker as you start each new month.

SAVINGS
$20
$30
$40

RENT + HEAT + ELECTRICITY + INTERNET
$55 – This is roommate + walkup (no elevator) apartment. The wifi is intermittent and borrowed from neighbors or nearby coffee shops.
$70 – This is studio apartment + elevator, with “OK” wifi (but not good enough to watch videos).
$85 –  This is 1 bedroom apartment, plus a community pool and workout room, and hi-speed wifi.
Note: Once you pick a rent amount, you can’t switch rent level till month 7.

FOOD
$40 – You’re eating the most inexpensive foods you can find. Lots and lots of ramen, tuna casserole, and frozen pot pies.
$60 – You can afford fresh veggies, plus a good protein dish (like chicken or beef or fish) for one meal each day.
$80 – You’re buying your groceries from the luxe grocery store. All your favorites. All the best quality. Like steak, fresh guacamole, and the best chocolate milk.
NOTE: If you eat at the $40 level for 3 months in a row, you get sick and miss half your earnings for the following month.

CAR + GAS
$25 – You have an embarrassing, unreliable car and you need to use alternative transportation half of the time.
$30 – You have a boring but reliable car.
$40 – You have a hipster, reliable and NEW car.

CLOTHES
$20 – one new item
$30 – two new items
$40 – three new items

6) CELL PHONE + SERVICE
$10 – You’ve got the crappiest smart phone with limited data – you can only send 100 texts each month.
$15 – You’ve got a boring cell phone, with reasonable data.
$20 – You’ve got the newest iPhone, with reasonable data.
Note: You can’t switch plans till month 7.

MOVIES + SHOWS + ENTERTAINMENT
$5 – You get rentals from the library, and can see one movie in the theater.
$10 – You can go to one music concert, and one movie in the theater.
$15 – You can go to two movies in the theater, one music concert
Note: This category earns you Social/Mental Well Being Points. $5 is worth 2 points, $10 is worth 4 points, and $15 is worth 6 points. 

EATING OUT + COFFEE SHOPS
$15 – You can eat two fast food meals each week.
$25 – You can eat two fast food meals each week, plus two restaurant meals each month.
$40 – You can eat two fast food meals each week, plus two restaurant meals each week.
Note: This category earns you Social/Mental Well Being Points. $15 is worth 2 points, $25 is worth 4 points, and $40 is worth 6 points. 

MISCELLANEOUS
$10
$20
$30
Note: You don’t get to choose this one. It goes in order and repeats. $10 in month one, $20 in month two, $30 in month three, then $10 in month four and so on.

GOAL
End with over $450 in savings and Social/Mental Well Being factor of 96 or higher.

——-

Third step. Once we’ve read the Budget Options, it’s almost time to get started. But before they jump in, I tell them I’m the Banker and I have a set of instructions that I’m going to follow, and those instructions include special circumstances for each month. The kids can’t read the Banker’s Instruction sheet. The instructions there are meant to surprise them. Here’s the content of the Banker’s Instruction sheet:

——-

“Banker’s Instructions” for the Teen Budgeting Game

This is just a guideline. Adapt as necessary to make it more, or less, challenging.

MONTH ONE: Player should create a budget, forecast their savings, and predict their social/mental well-being points.

MONTH TWO: Player should create a budget, forecast their savings, and predict their social/mental well-being points. Player earns $5 interest on their savings.

MONTH THREE: Player should create a budget, forecast their savings, and predict their social/mental well-being points. Player earns $5 interest on their savings. Player is fined $50 for a traffic ticket.

MONTH FOUR: Player should create a budget, forecast their savings, and predict their social/mental well-being points. Player earns $5 interest on their savings. Player receives a $10 birthday gift.

MONTH FIVE: Player should create a budget, forecast their savings, and predict their social/mental well-being points. Player earns $5 interest on their savings. Player is fined $100 for overdue taxes, and must pay it using credit, which he/she will need to pay back.

MONTH SIX: Player should create a budget, forecast their savings, and predict their social/mental well-being points. Player earns $10 interest. Player must pay 25% of their debt, plus $10 interest.

MONTH SEVEN: Player should create a budget, forecast their savings, and predict their social/mental well-being points. Player earns $10 interest on their savings. Player must pay 25% of their debt, plus $10 interest.

MONTH EIGHT: Player should create a budget, forecast their savings, and predict their social/mental well-being points. Player earns $10 interest on their savings. Player must pay 25% of their debt, plus $10 interest.

MONTH NINE: Player should create a budget, forecast their savings, and predict their social/mental well-being points. Player earns $20 interest on their savings. Player must pay the final 25% of their debt, plus $10 interest.

MONTH TEN: Player should create a budget, forecast their savings, and predict their social/mental well-being points. Player earns $20 interest on their savings.

MONTH ELEVEN: Player should create a budget, forecast their savings, and predict their social/mental well-being points. Player earns $20 interest on their savings.

MONTH TWELVE: Player should create a budget, forecast their savings, and predict their social/mental well-being points. Player earns $20 interest on their savings. Player receives $10 holiday bonus.

——-

How to Play the Teen Budgeting Game

Fourth, they start budgeting. They total each month and make sure they’re staying within $300. They check the budget notes and make sure they’re following along. They add up their Savings and Social/Mental Well-being points. They check in with me (the Banker) as they go so I can tell them what their challenges are for the next month based on the Banker’s Instruction sheet, and I adapt the month’s challenges as necessary. (Knowing I want this to be a positive learning experience, I put the goals within reach. But I can make it harder or easier depending on the mood they’re in.) I’ve got a worksheet here that you can download that will help them create their budgets.

Last step? Add up the final numbers and see if they’ve met their goals! I didn’t offer prizes, but taking them out for a milkshake wouldn’t be a bad idea.

And now a few quick notes: Yes, yes, I know. It’s not perfect! And you would do it differently (and better!). And your kids would totally forego new clothes! And going to movies doesn’t really give you mental well being! And eating ramen for 3 months won’t necessarily make you sick! This is all true. I totally believe you. And I promise you can adapt this any way you like. I definitely created this with my specific teens in mind, trying to come up with details that might appeal to them. Your teens might relate to completely different categories. And if you’re doing this with younger kids, I recommend you involve MineCraft somehow.

Now back to today. I can tell you, I wasn’t sure if the kids would be in to it, but they totally were! They LOVED the challenge. I stuck mostly to the Banker’s Instructions as listed, but threw in a couple of extra challenges when necessary. I did the activity first with Maude, and then with Ralph, and it took about an hour each time to get through all 12 months (I recommend having a calculator nearby to help speed things up). I don’t pretend it made them budgeting geniuses overnight, but it generated lots of good discussion.

I hope it communicated the ideas that yes, you can spend every dime you earn and never save, but there are real negative consequences when you do. And alternatively, yes, you can eat the bare minimum and live like a miser, but there are real negative consequences when you do. The goal is a reasonable, healthy, monthly budget. It might not happen every month, but it’s the goal. I hope this budgeting game also communicated some basic social awareness — reminding them that not everyone has access to things like decent food, and that can create health problems.

Think your kids would enjoy this? Feel free to download the sheets I created (free download!), and you can adapt them for your family however you like. Print the worksheet (page 3) six times and you’ll have 12 months of workspace.

Okay. Now I’m dying to hear. Have you had any breakthroughs teaching budgeting to your kids? Would your kids be into something like this? Are your kids savers or spenders? (I have some of both.) Do your kids save for anything in particular? Like for a car or for college? I’d love to hear!


Credits: Photo and text by Gabrielle Blair.

77 thoughts on “A Budgeting Game for Teens That I Totally Made Up (And Maybe Your Kids Will Like It Too).”

  1. Okay, first of all, NOBODY ever spells their name the same way I do, so how awesome is that first commenter?!

    Secondly–Gabby, this game is genuis! Can’t wait to break it out with my kiddos! Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Ah!! Nobody ever spells their name the same way I do either!! Finally, a fellow Rachael with an extra ‘a’!

  2. This is a great idea! My kids are 4 and not-quite-2, so I won’t be breaking it out anytime soon, but I recently read the book The Opposite of Spoiled, and it made me really excited to teach my kids about money in this kind of way. It was a very thought-provoking book, and I highly recommend it.

  3. This is awesome! I don’t have any teens yet but my oldest is 8 and time is moving quickly. I will definitely be downloading and filing away for later!

  4. This looks like it could be a neat app for kids.

    Thanks for sharing! Financial literacy is so critical and yet brushed under the table as a conversation topic (or gets heated/emotional quickly). I’m amazed at how taboo it is to discuss among adults, let alone with your children. Neat game!

  5. I love this! I’m going to try it with my kids! We’ve been talking a lot about budgeting. With school starting, I give the older ones a budget and list of items they need (clothes, etc.). Then, I point out when sales are happening to help them get the most for their money! I think it really opens their eyes to the fact that they have a lot of options and some are a much better use of money than others!

  6. My oldest son is 15 – he still thinks that everything you earn is what you have to spend. He was shocked when I told him how much comes out for income tax! Gabrielle, I love your idea of making personal finance into a game. I am going to try it with my 15 year old and 11 year old sons.

  7. We did something like this in my 5th grade class a long time ago. Our teacher brought the classifieds ads from the newspaper and we got to pick out a car, job, and house to rent. Every Friday we would pull out our folder and complete our budget. Its the only thing I remember from 5th grade. Also, Utah has a Finance in the Classroom program for students, parents, and teachers, to help teach aspects of finance all thru school.

  8. This is amazing! My only budgeting lesson was “don’t spend more than you have” (and my parents were very good with money….they just never talked about money).

    1. I’m know you’re not alone, Summer! Talking about finances can get so weird so fast — and of course, we’re all taught not to talk about money topics at parties or dinners. So I totally get it.

  9. Ages ago (about 15 yrs) we bought Robert Kiyosaki’s (from the Rich Dad, Poor Dad books) board game which is like this but with more investing involved in the mix. It came with a free version of the kids game which we stuck in a drawer for 15 yrs and have only just pulled out. Our kids love it and have even started dabbling with the grown up version, which is good to see. The game has a random card that tells you ‘congratulations, you’ve had a baby!’. The kids were so excited at first, but as they learnt what this meant to their bottom lines it was pretty funny to hear their POV change on it. At one stage our 5 yr old was groaning, ‘you’ve gotta be kidding, another kid?’. I have no idea if the Rich Dad Poor Dad games are still around but an app of your version would be fantastic.

  10. Great idea! I used to teach at an alternative high school, and we had every student do something similar as part of their senior portfolio. I wish I could remember the website, but it used pretty realistic numbers and the kids were always shocked at how quickly a couple of thousand dollars goes!

  11. Thank you for sharing this! We are always trying to drill this home with our kids, that every dollar you spend is a choice with pros and cons.

    This article is one I wish I’d seen as a teen (who earned and blew some serious cash in teen & young adulthood) with a great visual on the impact of early investing.

    The Dave Ramsey site has many other resources and articles for teaching kids financial literacy. Mr. Money Mustache is another great site if you want to learn/teach about achieving early financial independence.

  12. This is an amazing idea! I’ve never seen anything like it, and it looks like so much fun that I kind of want to play it myself! Bookmarked it for when the time comes- thanks so much for sharing.

  13. Haha we’re going up to our beach bungalow next week and I’ve had a look at the weather forecast, not good. So now I’m going to print this game off and take it for my 3 teens to play as there is no tv and no internet!Thank you.

  14. This is a great idea! No need to wait for them to be teens though. I think even the smaller kids are money aware and this can help everyone get in the right frame of mind about finance. I recommend Ron Lieber’s The Opposite of Spoiled as a starting point for talking to kids about money.

  15. Thanks so much for this great resource. My daughter has many dreams and I want her to make them a reality. This is a small step for teens and a large step for the next generation! Love this!

  16. Oh my gosh. I’m a total finance nerd and can’t wait to play this game. Teaching me how to budget and shop and do my taxes (not to mention how to do my laundry) was one (among many) of the greatest gifts my beautiful late Mother ever did for me. I owe it to her and my Dad for where we are today, financially.

    One of my faves that she did was when I went away to college. Yes, she paid for it (which I will be forever grateful), but she didn’t write the check herself. She put a specific amount into my account that would pay for tuition, books, dorm fees, food. It was enough for the basics. Any extra had to come from my own savings from working during summer/babysitting. It was up to me to budget what was given to me. I was not to call home for money as I had what was needed. If I didn’t budget well and ran out of money or wanted extra money for going out or clothes or whatever, I was instructed that I would have to get a job to pay for those things. My Dad struggled while working his way through college and wanted my sister and I to have a different experience.

    I was excellent at budgeting once I left university, even though I was fortunate enough to have my schooling paid for. I also knew how much it all cost and how much my parents saved and spent for my education.

    Thanks for these resources. It’s a goal of mine to teach my children well about finances. I want them to understand not just the value of a dollar but also that when you are choosing to spend your money on one thing, you are subsequently giving up something else…so you should really think about it and not just spend willy nilly.

  17. Wow, you created a dungeons and dragons type budgeting game. You should have a budget master in there too. But as far as teach my kid budgeting, he’s only 3 so I don’t know where he stands with money. I did notice that when I give him a dollar to put in the piggy bank, he ends up putting it somewhere and forgetting about it. That’s probably because he’s only 3, can’t really blame him.

  18. I’m so late to comment, but we were on vacation for 2 weeks and even though we’ve back almost that long, I’m still catching up!

    I. Love. This. Game! I’m totally going to do it with my 13 (almost 14) yo.

    She gets a weekly allowance, but is definitely not great at saving any of it for unexpected expenses. We do put $1 in a savings account for her weekly. We’ve been doing that since she began getting an allowance. Coupled with some random deposits, she’s got well over $200 now.

    We like the idea of being able to present her with an already-begun savings account when she leaves home with the hope that we’ll have also instilled in her the value of saving. The instilling is something we need to work on, though.

    I think (hope) she’ll enjoy the game as much as your kids did. I think it sounds like great fun and I wish I’d had something like this when I was a teen. Maybe my financial learning curve wouldn’t have been so steep then or taken so long to climb.

  19. This sounds like A great Idea. I teach Dollars and Sense in a High School classroom and I am constantly looking for things to get my students out of the textbooks and actively learning.
    I am using an online simulator this semester from H&R block that your game sounds similar to. Students play a recent college graduate and have to make decisions on how to pay their bills and save as much money as possible in their 401k plan over about 10 weeks. It is free and H&R Block gives away scholarships to the top students nationwide.

  20. I’m going to adapt this a little bit to work with teens in therapy! We are working on life skills and as it is a group therapy session this will be great! I am a social work intern and will be working with all boys. I have tried just giving them budgeting talks and they all look at me like I am crazy. I am hoping this will allow them a hands on learning (I think I will use monopoly money so they can actually see what they would have/save/spend)! Great idea!

  21. This sounds awesome. I am going to use it with my Cadette girl scouts to make earning their Budgeting badge a lot more fun.

  22. I am using this in my middle school life skills classroom. It is going well and is great way to generate conversations about money and budgeting. One question, what do you do with the money left over after you chose a savings amount if you are under budget? Did you add to next month or make sure you used all of $300(basically leaving leftover to savings?)

  23. Thanks for this! My oldest is a junior in HS and I’ve realized he desperately needs some help in this area quickly. This looks like a great way to actually teach him and actually have him hear me. Can’t wait to try it.

  24. Hi there, we are using your budget game in our school for the gr 9 finances unit. I was hoping for some clarification on some of the rules, if you wouldn’t mind providing it:
    1. once the students choose a car, do they need to keep the same car for the whole game? It doesn’t specify (as it does for the rent and phone portions), but that would make sense? Unless it were a ‘lease’ which would work as well.
    2. When the students make interest on their savings, do they keep that in their savings account to carry forward, or do they apply that to their $300 income for the month?
    3. I assume they must spend the whole $300 each month? No carry forward?
    Thanks, the students are really enjoying it!

    1. I LOVE hearing that you’re using the game in your school. And these are great questions.

      1) For the car, my kids kept there’s the whole game, but you could totally treat it like the rent or cell phone, and let them switch it up after month 6. The reason I make them wait to switch things up is because contracts often prevent us from switching things until the contract (for rent or cell phone) is finished. You could definitely treat a car the same way.

      You could also switch it to public transportation, but then add in a challenge like there’s public transit strike and they can’t get to work or school, so they earn less money, or miss a test.

      2) Yes, when students earn interest they can carry it forward. I suppose if they need it for monthly expenses, they could do that too. Though, I’m assuming it will make it harder to reach the savings goal.

      3) They can totally carry any remaining from the $300 forward. Or they can put in savings. Whatever they like.

      Please know you can adapt this anyway you like. The more we play it, the more it gets refined. I might tweak dollar amounts, or categories, whenever we start a new round, to keep the game fresh and challening. And in that spirit, if you find a change or improvement that helps, please feel free to add your feedback here so that all can benefit.

  25. I will definitely be using this for a high school program that I plan to volunteer for. I will create an excel spreadsheet that calculates the budget for them! I will probably create some discussion points about healthy eating, poverty, emergency reserves, etc. This is very awesome! How innovative! Thanks so much.

  26. Hi. I realize you created this a while back but I just came across it and my daughter is going to use it over the next 12 days. :) Can you explain the Saving section with $20, $30, $40? Is that extra money they receive from somewhere and does it rotate like the Misc each month? There was no explanation listed so we weren’t sure how it applies. Thanks!

    1. Or maybe the Savings is just what is left each month after expenses? That makes most sense to me but didn’t know if I was missing something else.

      1. They are required to put a certain amount of “income” in savings each month. So think of it like an expense. And then, that savings number grows each month as the funds stay in savings. Does that make sense?

  27. Hi! I’m so glad I found your post. I used this last night to meet one of the Girl Scouts Budgeting badge requirements for my Cadettes. I was not sure if they were going to like it, and they loved it! The game prompted some good discussions about how to make decisions long term, and how to deal with unexpected expenses. Do you mind if I posted a link to my area’s FB page? I think other leaders may find it useful.

  28. Does anyone have an example of one completed? I’m still confused on how to add the scores up and how to incorporate the interest etc.

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  30. Thanks so much for this post. I used it in a classroom today at a charter. They enjoyed it a lot. I mixed it up a little with some extra scenarios based on choices to keep it interesting and add more humor for the crowd I had, but the base game was so wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  31. I am the GED/Employment Specialist and one of the groups I have is on Career & Employment. I teach a unit that has to do with finances – 3 parts to it. The first is on budgeting and I just came across your post. I’m always trying to create activities to make this “real” and yours adds a bit of “real-life” challenge in that we can’t always anticipate things that might arise and we also need to consider social/mental well-being. THANKS for creating this!

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  35. Angela Ringlein

    Thanks for sharing this well-thought-out game. It’s always nice to find things where you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I used this for a small group of girls at our church. I swapped out the clothing category and added tithing, though all the girls ended up with more at the end of the month, so maybe they would’ve been fine with an extra required category. I also made “miscellaneous” cards to draw instead of the rotating amount, things like car oil change $30, new uniform for work $20, etc. I was surprised a couple girls focused more on getting money in their savings than tracking their social points, but I guess that’s the goal of achieving balance in life. I also bough play money for them to use to pay their various categories, as it always feels more real to count money out than write it on a piece of paper. Overall it was a successful and fun game for the girls. Thanks again!

  36. Great game, we are playing today! Question though…my kids did. Did not use up the full $300 so where does that money go? And they did NOT like when the taxes came in and they had to use their credit, they wanted to use savings or the excess they had for being under budget…

  37. Very well done. I was looking for a way to educate teens about budgeting in a light hearted way along with taking into count the wellness/social factors that can be ignored, or prioritized low when trying to stretch/budget ones income. I used this in collaboration of goal setting workshop. Very big hit.

  38. Hi I’m a 17 year old girl excited for the future and im going to play this with my sisters and hopefully teach this to the teens at my school

  39. Loret Simonds

    THIS IS AWESOME! I work with a small group of homeless who have small incomes of SS and SSDI and blow through it each month because they don’t understand the difference between want vs need. I took some play money and calculated how much the spend on coffee shops and cigarettes and they were shocked when they counted out $68 a month for 1 per day DD med coffee and $2555 a year for smoking 1 pack of cigarettes a day. So we’ve been doing money skill lessons. I’m going to use your game to teach them budgeting and I’l be giving them $300 in play money so it is more real to them how money comes and goes. Thanks for sharing this game. Loret

  40. Tyesha Shoulders

    Thank you so much for sharing this activity. I am currently a college student and I host a young women’s empowerment conference with ladies ages 13-18. I am planning for another conference this summer. I was looking for interactive activities that would give them great value for life and you have given me just that. I cannot wait to execute this game with them! This is wonderful!!!!

  41. I love this idea! I did something similar when I took accounting in high school and it was so much fun to learn hands on. I was specifically searching for this very thing when your blog popped up. I can’t wait to try it out on my teens. I’m not a very innovative person, so thank you for coming up with this!

  42. Karin Stanley

    SO glad I found this today! I used it with a group of teen GED students and they were all totally into it! (<–rare)

    I wonder if you could put numbers on all nine budgeting categories on the Budget Options page?

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