Ideas, Activities · Techie Tips

Using Google Sheets to Teach Budgeting Skills to Students

I’m just the English teacher, but when I polled my students and asked how many of them knew how to budget, out of a class of 28, only 4 students raised their hands.

This class was a mix of 9th-12th graders and only FOUR knew how to make a budget. I then asked them if they thought high schools should better prepare students for the real world. Every single hand shot up into the air.

Yeah, I agree with them. Many students don’t see how algebra, grammar, or other courses will help them in the “real world.” They resist spending time learning something that they don’t find any value or worth in.

Students should always know WHY they are learning a specific concept or skill and it should be a better reason than “To do well on the test.”

I started to provide a lesson on budgeting, making a list of real world monthly expenses using estimates from my own life experiences. They became more engaged and were surprised at some of the costs an adult has to pay.

Many students were surprised by the amount of rent I pay in town, which is not a big area nor very cosmopolitan. They didn’t think about car payments or car insurance or health bills at first. When they saw how much these expenses began to add up, they made comments like, “Better buy Saltines and water!” or “Not gonna survive working at McDonalds.” etc. etc.

But they started to make real world connections to the realities of budgeting with REAL numbers.

We made a draft today of what a budget sheet looks like. I asked them to write down what they think they’ll have to pay and how much it would cost. I wanted to see what they already believed. The only expense I initially listed was “rent.” I asked them to think of the other costs they’d have to pay monthly.

I gave them time to complete the chart and then asked them to share what expenses they listed and how much they wrote down for each one. I had a crazy variety! A lot of students joked with each other and were shocked by what some other students said. Others thought about expenses in other states ($3,000 for rent in New Jersey).

I then asked them to total their expenses and then break down an income that would cover it. The break down can be by hour or a yearly salary and showed them the math to do it.

After we discussed these expenses and the incomes needed to cover their “lifestyles,” I made a Google Sheet for them to put everything in. I pre-made the functions needed for the addition and subtraction of totals.

budget student google sheets

The remainder boxes for estimated and actual are conditionally formatted to go bold red if it’s negative.

Providing this worksheet to students is a substitute/augmentation for students to learn how budgets work (see SAMR model). To use Google Sheets for modification or redefinition, have students use Google Sheets to make a budget themselves complete with automatic calculations and conditional formatting.

I sent this assignment out using Google Classroom so each student could have their own copy.

student class grammar budget assignment

To extend it further or incorporate multiple disciplines, have them research the career they want, the places they want to live, and the average expenses to make their budgets more realistic. Ask them to write a reflection on what they learned and create a “My Life Goals” presentation using AdobeSpark or Google Slides; or, ask them to make a video that explains how to (and WHY it’s important) for future students.

Students are eager to learn these life skills if they think the skills will be of value to them. This is just one simple way to incorporate technology and students’ interests to make learning relevant to them.

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