On Friday, January 17, a group of Westminster Christian Academy juniors and seniors in the Advanced Math Concepts and Economics courses experienced what it takes to budget money like adults. During the annual “Mad City Money” simulation, students choose a career and discover their monthly income and whether or not they have a spouse and/ or children. Then, they must construct a monthly budget. Students learn quickly that there are many more required – and often unexpected – expenses than fun ones in life.
Each year at the end of the first semester, the class learns about principles that involve money and stewardship, including simple and compound interest, annuities, different kinds of loans, and more. “It’s no accident that the unit falls within the biggest shopping season of the year,” says math teacher Abby Karsten, who notes that while money usually piques students’ interest more than typical math problems, these students are also ready to start thinking about life after high school. “Most have jobs or expenses like cars, phones, and social activities, and college is on the horizon. They know that adult life has added responsibilities, but for some, it is hard to imagine what that really looks like.”
In Mad City Money, parents, office staff, and teachers served as merchants for the students. Students started by visiting booths and “purchasing” whatever they wanted: luxury cars, the most expensive clothes, a big house, and European vacations. But after a spending spree, a few quick calculations brought them back to earth – and back to the merchants’ tables to return what they couldn’t afford.
While not all students made poor choices at first, none of them anticipated unexpected expenses. Westminster HR Manager Amy Turner’s role was the “Fickle Finger of Fate,” delivering both good and bad news. One student complained that she had to pay $200 for a broken refrigerator and she hadn’t even visited the food booth yet!
At the end, students reported many insights into what it means to manage money like an adult. Various students said that in the future, they will take my time to make sure they are financially stable, save enough money in case there is an emergency, refuse to let sales people pressure them into purchases, and practice buying what is actually needed rather than what they want or think is needed.