Disclosure: I received this product free through the Homeschool Review Crew.
My goal this year is to teach my children more real-life skills, and one of the most important is understanding finances. The past couple of weeks have been very informative here while the children have been using PersonalFinanceLab Budget Game, Stock Market Game, and integrated curriculum to learn about the real world of finance. PersonalFinanceLab.com has a lot to offer and we’ll be learning for a long while yet.
Table of contents
What is PersonalFinanceLab?
PersonalFinanceLab.com is a relatively new kid on the block that teaches children (grades 7 and above) how to form a basic budget and how stock markets work.
There are three main parts to this program:
- The Budget Game
- The Stock Game
- The Curriculum
PersonalFinanceLab kindly hosted a live demonstration for the Review Crew ahead of us being given access to it for the standard 9 months that compose a school year. I’m very glad I attended this as it made getting started so much easier than it otherwise would have been. If you have the chance to attend one, I highly recommend it.
The Budget Game
This was our favourite and most-used part of this program, and the area where most people begin when learning about Personal Finance. I set up a ‘challenge’ that composes the basic spine of the game and then the children and I were all able to play.
I set us up as (uni) students for 9 months and working part time, and then as full-time working adults for the remainder of the game (I chose 24 months of play, but you can decide for each game). Each month we must calculate our expected income and estimate our expenses (rent, car insurance, food, telephone ,internet, and incidental bills), as well as our savings goal for the month. Then you move through the month.
Fridays are payday – yay! Other days see you roll the dice to see what happens. You pay your bills on designated days you know about ahead of time, but there are also lots of unexpected scenarios such as speeding fines, birthday gifts, paying for snow clearance for your apartment (check your rental contract for details). Or perhaps you decide to stay home on the weekend instead of socialising or working, and it’s possible you’ll earn some income from taking your bottles for recycling and getting the deposit back.
Each month takes about 20 minutes to complete. The goal is to increase your credit rating, your quality of life points, and your net balance. Your other goal is to save a minimum of $1,000. You’ll encounter mini lessons such as learning that it’s a good goal to save 10% of your income each month and have at least 6 months of income saved as an emergency fund.
With each expense you must decide if you’ll use your debit or credit card (and if you don’t have enough money to pay your bills you’ll learn about late fees and compound interest). One interesting thing to note is that although every player has the same starting balance, each will have their own set of life experiences so will have different choices to make that will affect their game plan.
The Stock Game
Stock trading is not my strong point; I’d previously lost quite a bit in a stocks and shares ISA during the ’08 crash with qualified professionals managing the funds for me. I also remember watching a few seesaw up and down during the ’80s & ’90s in the newspapers. However, I didn’t really understand it all.
To be honest, I’m still uncertain, which means I’m not the one that should be teaching the skills to my children, and that’s where the Stock Game comes in. Students can learn all manner of things through lessons and videos; see the history of specific stocks, and make ‘trades’ using slightly delayed stats. They can research companies, and trade amongst many world markets (unfortunately I didn’t see London in the list, but Toronto and Tokyo were there).
What a fun way to learn about stocks without investing real money! I set up the ‘class’ to have a set amount of available funds to start with (separate from the Budget Game) and chose the world markets I wanted to give the children access to, as well as choosing for them to trade in British Pounds. Then the rest was up to them.
I think my children are still a little young to really understand the concepts as the markets aren’t in the daily newspapers as much as they were when I was a kid, and they’re only given a sentence or two in airtime on the news when there’s something significant to report, but as they work through the lessons, I know their knowledge will increase.
The third part of PersonalFinanceLab is the Curriculum. You can set any or all of the 300 assignments in different areas such as terminology used in the games (and real life, of course), investing 101, options and derivatives, order trades, international investing, math and spreadsheets, credit cards, credit scores, planning long-term purchases, contracts, sales tax, insurance, and good and bad debt, as well as others.
My son has been doing better with the assignments than his sister; however, he is two years older, and just at the low end of the target market for this program. My daughter is 10 and 3 years below the target, so that’s understandable. That being said, my daughter is always interested in money and has enjoyed playing the games and doesn’t shy away from the lessons. Previous to the pandemic she baked cookies and sold them to neighbours and Phil’s colleagues and always put money into savings as well as donating to a charity that’s helped us. She wanted to know more about our household budget, and now she has her own to work with in the Budget Game, without the stress of real cash. I believe the information learned in the lessons will help her in the way she views life in the future when she can start up her business once again.
Let’s not forget that too many adults don’t know how to budget their money, don’t care about credit ratings, and haven’t a clue about stock markets. There is plenty of information in the lessons for adults to gleam some knowledge; the more knowledge you have the less frightened you need be and the more in control you will have over your life.
What We Loved
In the Budget Game my children learned that they have many different choices, all of which have consequences. What will they do on the weekend (study, socialise, clean the house, or work extra hours)? If they need a new blender, do they get the cheap budget model or the one with bells and whistles someone has recommended? Why is having a credit card important, as well as why they need to know how to use it responsibly and to their benefit.
They learn there’s a fine balance between enjoying life and living paycheck to paycheck or living a little leaner and putting away savings for unexpected bills and having a higher credit score. They learn they can’t always control what life dishes out, but they can be more prepared.
In the Stock Game children learn that strong nerves are required and you can increase your worth or lose it all in a moment. It’s not for everyone, but stocks are involved in pensions and many other ‘hidden’ areas of life, so understanding them can be enlightening.
As home educators, sometimes you can feel a little excluded from larger classes, but students can also participate in others’ challenges if they’re set up for it, and then have a larger ‘pool’ in which to compare their rankings and increase their competitiveness. Each month there’s also a specific Budget Game hosted for homeschoolers for a small fee.
What we Struggled With
I ran into some trouble setting up the Budget Game when I wasn’t able to progress through the screens. I waited calmly until the live chat was available (we’re in the UK and they are State side so there’s at least a 5-hour time difference), and they were able to set everything up for me to my specifications, which was great. Then we were ready to go.
What Did My Students Think?
My youngest (10) had the most incidental and unexpected expenses in the Budget Game (3 speeding tickets in 3 months, for example), and she ended up in a place where her credit card was over it’s max and her chequing account was also several hundred dollars in debt. This frustrated her, without doubt; however, she continued on. After she finished university and began working full time (and had more expenses), she was able to start pulling herself out of debt. She remained relatively calm, and told me she now knows the difference between credit and debit cards as she thought they were opposite of what they really are. That’s a great plus!
My son (13) says he loves this program! He wasn’t very keen when I told him we were going to review this, but his attitude soon changed once he’d worked his way through a couple of months in the Budget Game. He’d probably fly through the whole 24 months at once if I didn’t say that defeats the purpose of learning lessons through the assignments over time while playing. His eyes light up when he tells me how his month has gone and what his current net worth is and how many quality of life points he has.
As for me, I’m in last place in both games, but then my concentration is on real life and earning an income to pay for a mortgage and the new desk that just arrived. I definitely know how to budget and live within my means in real life, but I do want to learn more about stocks so I’ll be spending more time there and in the associated lessons.
Would We Recommend The Budget Game and Stock Game?
Yes, this is a program I would recommend to other families. It’s both fun and educational. It’s easy to understand how the lessons learned in the games and lessons translate to real life, yet students are able to learn them in a safe environment before having to maneuver within the real world. So many students find themselves in deep debt after high school when they get credit cards and buy clothes or vacations and then find they aren’t able to pay their rent, food, and bills. These games will help them learn to budget effectively, and maybe even earn some investment income to boot.
I already know I’ll be setting up another challenge when the children finish this one…and they’ll then live another life and see new challenges and opportunities and see how they fare.
More Budget Game Information:
Read 25 reviews about PersonalFinanceLab.com by the Homeschool Review Crew. If you’d like to know more or would like to follow SchoolhouseTeachers.com, you can connect with them through their website, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.