Learning about finances is a key life skill for teens. But for parents and kids alike, bringing money lessons to life can be challenging. Want to make it a bit easier? Try a few simple and fun budgeting activities for high school students.
Keeping things light and relevant is key. After all, when it comes to sneaking in a little financial literacy with teens, time and interest are two main hurdles.
High schoolers have a lot to worry about. There are classes to study for, extracurriculars, afterschool jobs, social circles and the light subject of preparing for college. On top of all that, the idea of sitting down with mom and dad to analyze a family budget likely isn’t high on the excitement chart.
So instead, parents looking to sneak in a little Money 101 should consider ways to engage teens without boring them.
While that might sound impossible, southeast Michigan economics teacher Alexander Greschuk says it’s doable – and that teaching children about finances and budgeting is one of the most important lessons a parent can share.
“Financial literacy in general, as well as budgeting and saving, are skills a lot of kids don’t have,” says Greschuk, a teacher at Washtenaw International Academy, an International Baccalaureate high school in Ypsilanti. “Yet studies show that it can lead them to make bad decisions … and contribute to wealth disparities later on.”
Read below to discover tips for turning a boring conversation about finances into fun budgeting activities for high school students.
Play ‘The Price is Right’
One activity Greschuk suggests is a type of guessing game. Have teens sit down and ask them to create a list of things they think the family spends money on. Once the items are written down, challenge your teen to get as close as they can to an accurate estimate.
“It can be an ongoing thing,” he says. “Every month, sit down and have them input the numbers, like ‘We spend this month on gas, or whatever,’ and they can add it up.'”
If there’s more than one child in the house, have kids compete to see who can get closest to the correct amount and give the winner a small prize.
Make budgeting the activity
One of the most obvious budgeting activities to do with a teen is simply make the family budget with them, says Greschuk.
Make it more exciting, though, by showing how money can be tucked away for things the teen is interested in – say vacation funds or entertainment.
Motivating kids to participate by having them budget their own money is another option. “If they don’t spend a certain amount of their allowance each month, perhaps they could get a small bonus,” he says.
Turn the budget into a board game
If your teens happen to be board game fiends, turn the budget into a board game. In a game created by Gabrielle Blair of the Design Mom blog, kids “go through 12 months of budget, and each month they have new challenges thrown their way,” writes Blair, a California mom of six.
“The goal was 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,” she adds. It’s similar to the classic game Life.
Use the news
“Sit down with kids from time to time and look at news articles that might affect their budget, like new taxes or policies,” Greschuk says. To make this exercise a bit more appealing, focus on what kids are into.
What’s their favorite brand of electronics, for example? Look at how investing in different stock of companies they are familiar with would impact their own savings.
Play with the big picture
Greschuk says one of his kids’ favorite lessons in class is an online game called Build Your Stax. Parents trying to get teens to see the big picture about savings could use it as a fun budgeting activity for high school students at home, too.
It takes about 20 to 30 minutes, and each minute is one year within the game. Players start with a pretend $1,000 that they can invest in things like mutual funds and savings. The goal is to see how much money they can save in 20 years.
“They have a feature where things pop up – like your furnace breaks down, and you have to pay for it – so it teaches that lesson about saving for a rainy day, too,” Greschuk says. “I find kids get a lot more engaged if they can interact with the topic themselves.”
Try ‘app’-ropriate budget tools
If your kids have smartphones, consider downloading the Mint app. The app links to a bank account and tracks users’ spending with colorful pie charts and bar graphs.
They can also set budgets for different categories of spending and get alerts when spending starts to approach the limit.
“Using the app can really make them understand how little things over time build up, and it gets them into the mindset about thinking about different purchases they make,” Greschuk says.
Parents can download the app, too, and compare and contrast with their teen on what they spend and where they can improve.
This post was originally published in 2018 and is updated regularly.