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Friday, August 26, 2016

Setting Up a Middle School Classroom Economy

Last school year, I had very ambitious dreams about starting a classroom economy system in my room. I was desperate for a way to tie in the Personal Financial Literacy TEKS that are a part of our math standards in Texas. I was very nervous about starting one and it was a very large project to take on to ensure it fit my very own needs. I am going to give you an idea of how I set mine up so that you can easily copy for your own room. If you want to know my full-year review of the classroom economy, be sure to stay to the end.
I think the single hardest part was trying to figure out how to keep my money organized. I ended up getting this container from Dollar Tree and inserted index card dividers I already had lying around. This turned out to be perfect! I never had to guess or hunt for certain bills because they were already organized ahead of time.
This was the fun part. I let students buy things under the variable expense category using the money they had earned. If you notice, I also included restroom breaks and pencils. No more freebies! This allowed me to have students use their credit cards in emergency situations and learn about paying them off with interest. It also kept them from taking all of my pencils before they had even asked peers to borrow one. The kids took this very seriously because they wanted to spend their money on fun stuff, not pencils. For the first time in my entire career, I actually had pencils left over at the end of the year!! I had always run through around 500 by spring break before the classroom economy system!!
Fixed expenses were the not-so-fun part. And yes, I really did make my students pay rent. However, I did lower it down by a lot because the amount shown here was overly ambitious and the students were not reaching it. We changed rent to $100 after the first month equating $25 per week. This mean on months like December that were shorter, I only charged them the $25/week for however many weeks we were in school that month. If students could not pay rent, then they were required to bring their lunch into my room and clean my desks after they had eaten as a way to "work for hire" at $25/lunch break. So if a student was roughly $50 short on rent, they owned me 2 lunches as "work for hire." Almost all of my student figure out real quick to budget better and save up for rent before spending their money on the variable expenses!
The income was how students earned their money. You can tailor this to meet the needs of your classroom and what you would like the students to accomplish. The key with an economy system is to have some things that are predictable and all students can reach like being in your seat and working on the warm-up by the time the bell rings. Some are there for students to stretch themselves such as making an A on an assignment. It also needs some sort of teacher discretion where the teacher can give someone money just because they feel like it for going above and beyond on an assignment, helping a peer without being asked, etc. Teacher discretions are not meant to be given every single time, but randomly, so that students never get too complacent on their work.
Here is what the prices looked like set up in my classroom. It was very easy to see and reference for both the students and myself.

So now the part you are waiting did it go? I truly felt like it was single-handedly the best idea I ever had. The students were completely committed to it till the very end. One of the major benefits was that it provided me with an easy way to give lots of positive reinforcement without much effort. My class behaviors also became almost non-existent. Students who misbehaved in other classes were angels in mine because they were so committed to working hard and earning money. I only had to send 1 student to the office the entire year (he went a lot, but he was the only one who wouldn't fully buy-in to the system). This is in stark contrast to the 5-6 I had to send the year before.

I also felt that it gave students lots of real-world application. It was common to hear "I hate paying rent! Being an adult sucks!" Many of my students come from families who are not good with budgeting themselves, so this was a new world for them. Yet, I feel confident that they gained some budgeting skills while with me this past year.

It also taught my students how to count money. So few of them are ever exposed to cash anymore since their families just use debit and credit cards, that they have no idea what to do with actual money. Teaching them how to count the bills from biggest to smallest was not an area I expected to have to teach going into this, but I was very excited to see them accomplish this by the end of the year. I may not directly tie to a standard, but at least the can handle money now.
If you are thinking about starting a classroom economy in your room this year or the next, be sure to check out my starter kit here. It has everything you need to get started and begin to tailor it to your own classroom needs. It has quickly become one of my best sellers for good reason. Have a fantastic school year!


  1. I really loved having a classroom economy, but I had to do away with it because our school went to a school-wide incentive program. It's interesting seeing how specific you go with your economy. What a great experience for the kids. I held auctions every trimester, which was motivation for earning money. Thanks for sharing your creative ideas!

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  7. Did you have a specific time during class where your students could spend their money or buy a pencil?

  8. Check out! It makes running a classroom economy SO easy and students love having their own "bank account"