Activity: Bringing Dollars & Sense to the Classroom

As LifeBound’s new website launches, the Carol J. Carter blog is undergoing some changes too. We have extended the blog to include material for three of LifeBound’s biggest audiences: educators, parents, and students. Every week the three blogs will cover one common theme and write from three different perspectives. The educator’s blog will offer classroom activities and tips for the classroom. The parent’s blog will feature blogs by parents for parents. The student’s blog will be written by high school and college students for students. I will be a guest blogger on the parent and student blogs from time to time, as well. We hope you will enjoy reading our blogs from multiple perspectives and look forward to your feedback on our new approach.


  • Writing materials
  • Print Dollars & Sense: Monthly Budget Sheet (link in phase 3 of blog)
  • High school
  • This activity gets students thinking about their relationship with money, recording their spending, identifying wants and needs, and making a budget. Depending on the amount of time you have to dedicate to this exercise in class, you can do the whole activity in one class period, divide the phases over three days, or give the writing exercises out as homework.


The reasons people have for spending money are complicated. We might feel our emotions are closely tied with spending and not spending, we might have memories about not having any money or having a lot, we might feel like the amount of assets we have is a symbol of status, we might feel jealous of people who have what we don’t. Analyzing your relationship with money is an important step in understanding the “why” of spending.


Phase 1: Why do I spend money and how does it make me feel?

Have students journal for 10 minutes about their relationship with money. If students need help getting started, offer statements like the following:

  • I spend more money than I make. Why?
  • I buy things on impulse (without thinking). Why?
  • When I spend money I feel better. Why?
  • I wish I could save more money. Why?
  • I take responsibility for my spending choices. Why?

Now that students have had time to give thought to their spending habits, they should have a better idea of the things the spend money on. Give students an additional 1-2 minutes to write down all the things they spend money on.


Phase 2: Analyzing Your Spending

Ask the class: What is the difference between wants and needs? Our basic needs are food and water, shelter, clothing, and income. We also have additional needs based off those basic needs, like health care, education, and transportation. Our wants can be broken in two categories. Category 1 wants make our basic needs easier (a car vs. public transportation). Category 2 wants are nice to have items that are based on your desires (A new BMW vs. a used Nissan).

Have students return to their spending list. Give them 2 minutes to circle all the “needs” in their list. Then, have students get in small groups or open the class to discussion to compare what people marked as needs. Is eating lunch a need? Is going out for lunch a need? Think globally. Are everyone’s wants and needs the same? Give students the freedom to change their markings after the discussion if they were convinced their spending should be categorized differently.


Phase 3: Making a Budget

Understanding why you spend might be complicated, but understanding a budget is simple. The purpose of making a budget is to make sure when you subtract your monthly expenses from your income you end up on the positive side of $0.


Income – Expenses = +$0

In the final exercise students will fill out their Monthly Budget Worksheet (Click on the link for a printable pdf). This budget sheet is from the online material database for the LifeBound financial literacy book for teens, Dollars & Sense: How to Be Smart About Money.

The average American spends $1.22 for every dollar they earn. If some students come up with a negative total, ask them where they can cut back on spending. If some students come up with a positive number but don’t have a monthly amount set aside for savings, are they willing to cut back on something and start a savings account?

A budget doesn’t do you any good if you can’t stick to it. Ask the class:

  • Have you ever given up on something that you really thought you could do (working out, studying every night, going to practice on time)?
  • What is one thing that could have helped you stick it out?
  • How will you hold yourself accountable this time?

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