Making Finances Personal - Part 1
Updated: Jan 7
One of the most valuable and underused aspects of the virtual business experience is the infusion of personal finance into your classroom experience. If you choose to include the element of personal finances into your classes throughout the year, then October (in my opinion) is the best time to start the process. At this time the company is forming, employees are starting to receive their pay and their bank accounts are beginning to grow. The process of developing the personal finance components is essential and can supplement the tasks that students are doing in their job duties and creates a sense of realism in their lives outside of the office/classroom. This will set up the standard cycle of personal bill paying and purchasing for the coming months and will be the ongoing pattern of monthly personal finance throughout the life of the virtual business experience. Outlined below are why you should include personal finance and the first three steps in the process of getting started in your class.
WHY SHOULD YOU INCLUDE PERSONAL FINANCE ?
This is a great question that needs to be answered. Looking at all that is asked to facilitate this experience why add another element to the journey? This is especially relevant with new teachers teaching the course for the first time. The experience can be very overwhelming, time-consuming, and tends to burn teachers out if they try to do everything. Saying all that, I still feel the inclusion of personal finance might be the single most important element for students to understand what it takes to live in the real world. So here are my reasons why I think you should strongly consider adding this to the experience:
Most schools do not offer or require any personal finance education. Eight states currently have state-wide requirements for a personal finance course: Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Iowa, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia. So your class might be the only time your kids get any training on how to manage money throughout their entire educational experience. The tasks of creating a budget, purchasing a vehicle, finding a place to live in their local community, shopping in the network, and paying bills give them a practical understanding of what they will be doing as adults as they move into that chapter of their lives.
The monthly tasks of paying bills, purchasing from other virtual businesses, and completing the personal finance exercises is a consistent opportunity for individual grades in the classroom/office.
The virtual economy needs customers. All companies need to have customers to make the simulation work. When students are tasked to make purchases through the personal finance aspects of the program, this helps everyone involved. Companies receive and process sales, customers are using the network bank and the more robust the students engage with the sales process the more robust the experience is for all the companies actively looking to make sales.
It can be fun. I have found students love looking for their first car, finding roommates in the class, and finding an apartment or a house to rent together. I have had students choose to simulate what it means to be a single parent and add kids into the equation and have even allowed student marriages in my classes and all that going with that. All of this enriches the experience for the students and gives them experience in the realities of surviving while in the workforce.
STEP 1: BUILDING A LIVABLE BUDGET
Over the years I have found that students have no concept of what it costs to live on their own. Most have only experienced living in a situation where their parents have provided everything they need in life and they have no concept of what weekly groceries cost or why their parents nag them to shut off the lights when they are not in their room so they can lower the electric bill. Most never pay any form of bills and are often asking for money so they can do stuff with their friends. Most teens have a consumer mentality and no real concept of the value of money. This is why they need to start with a budget and build that out so they know the limits on what their virtual salary can afford. I have developed a BudgetPlanner Worksheet. It is a downloadable Google Sheet that can be shared with your students to begin the process of establishing a livable budget. In this budget planning exercise, the students need to know their monthly salary, but if the company has not set the salary I recommend setting the salaries at $4000 a month for leadership/managers and $2000 a month for support staff. The exercise allows them to have roommates, pets, and even children, so they can play around with the dependent option numbers and number of roommates until they can find a livable budget. After they have completed this exercise, they will know what they can afford for housing, if they need to find others in the class to room with and what they can afford for a monthly car payment. This can be a great opportunity for an individual graded assignment and they can submit the completed budget to your Learning Management System. Once completed they should save the worksheet for later steps.
STEP 2: BUYING THEIR FIRST CAR
This is one of the assignments that my students typically found fun and exciting. Some have their driver's licenses, but few have their own cars, so researching and purchasing their first car is a new experience and one which they will repeat in real-life in the not-so-distant future. This is the second exercise I have my students complete as they move toward the initial setup of their finances for the year. Once again I have developed a Personal Transportation Worksheet. It is a downloadable Google Sheet that can be shared with your students to continue the process of establishing the components of their year-long personal finance simulation. In this exercise, they will be given suggested price ranges for their monthly payments based on their positions in the company. But they should look on the budget sheet for the exact amount they can comfortably afford. This is a great exercise in comparing wants to needs. So support staff who was dreaming of driving a Porsche will quickly realize that the new Porsche is out of their price range but might be able to find an older model that is within the livable range. At this point, it is a good discussion to talk about buying a new car and a used car that still looks good. Car and Driver has a nice article that compares buying a New vs. Used vehicles. You might have the students read this and then have a class discussion about what they think is the best option at this time in their lives. Once the car is found they will need to fill in all the YELLOW boxes on the worksheet and the PINK boxes are locked and will auto calculate things like license fee, registration and sales tax, fuel costs, and auto insurance. Once completed they should save the worksheet for later steps.
STEP 3: DETERMINING THEIR LIVING SITUATION
By this time in the process, the students should have a good idea of what they can afford for rent (on the Budget sheet in Step 1) and they should first start looking for places fairly close to work (the school office) where they can live alone. I have them start alone first, and will quickly find out if they need to have roommates. Depending on where you are located, monthly rents can vary dramatically. Overall, based on 2022 data, the average rent price in the United States is $1,249. per month. California is the most expensive state to rent, with an average rent of $1,901, and the least expensive state for rent is West Virginia with an average rent price of $800. Some cities are much lower than the state average as in Toledo, Ohio, the most affordable city in the U.S. for rent with an average rent price of $550, but the state average is $1056. What this tells us is that you need to research the rates in your area. The best way to check rental rates is to use an internet search tool like apartments.com or rent.com where you can search by your location for places to rent. If you have a group of students looking to live together as roommates (because they can not afford to live alone) they can look as a group for apartments or rental homes (which can often be a better value) at the above links. I always make hard-fast rules, they can not live with family, and each roommate needs to have their own room. (3 roommates = 3 bedrooms). Though they often would try to convince me, I never allowed, sharing rooms or sleeping on the couch as a viable option. Once they have found the place they want to live they will need to complete the Personal Housing Worksheet. In this exercise, they will record the address of where they live, how far it is from the school office (they can use Google maps to get this distance, this will be later used to determine the month's gas costs), and determine the rental insurance they are required to carry for the simulation. Once completed they should save the worksheet for later steps.
Making Finances Personal - Part 2
In the second part of this blog post, I'll discuss the final steps of putting it all together into a comprehensive personal finance worksheet, paying bills, and some examples of the extreme applications I used to make personal finance unforgettable for my students.