BUDGET GAME — 35 minutes

Overview: It is often hard to imagine how someone could end up losing their home until they have been through it.

Objective: Participants will be able to understand the many obstacles and choices that families with limited means must face every month. Participants will recognize that while many people without homes are unemployed, there are many who have jobs but still cannot afford housing.

Materials: 4 packets including pencils and calculators (make 2 copies of one or more packets in case of more than 4 groups)

Method: Give each group a packet and follow instructions

Preparation Instructions

1) Open Pages named Family 1, Family 2, Family 3 and Family 4. Within each of these Pages you will find links to Income and Expenses, as well as links to a Family Scenario, a Family Budget Worksheet, a Family Crisis 1 and possibly also a Family Crisis 2 and/or a Family Good News. Print each of these documents for separation into Family Packets.

2) Prepare one Family packet for each of four Budget Game participant groups (group 1 gets the family 1 packet, group 2 gets the family 2 packet, etc.). Note that this exercise is designed for 4 groups – the size of the groups is up to you. If you have too many people for 4 groups consider offering two different sessions. Otherwise make copies of one or more packets to accommodate additional group(s). Within each packet group the documents as follows, using envelopes, paper clips, etc.:

a)The family scenario and the budget worksheet

b)Expenses (to save paper, some bills are grouped together on one sheet for printing. Cut out each bill separately so that groups get a sense of what it’s like to go through actual bills each month)

c) Income (cut out each if more than one on a sheet)

d) The crisis scenario (s)

e) The “good news” if it exists

3) Print and review documents linked to page called “Other Supporting Materials.” These are overviews of all the family information that you can use when overseeing the game with your groups.

Playing the Game

1) Ask the groups to open their packets, taking out first the family scenario and budget worksheet. After getting familiar with their family scenario, direct groups to proceed with reviewing their “bills” from the expense grouping, and to use them to fill out the expense lines on their budget worksheet.

2) Once this is complete, ask the groups to review their “income,” and to use these documents to fill in the income section of their budget worksheet.

3) Assuming that the expenses already exceed income for some groups, ask them to consider what could potentially be modified given what they know about the family and using for reference the Food and Gas facts on the upper right corner of the budget worksheet.

4) Once this is complete, ask the groups to open their crisis scenario (s). This may cause them to reconsider their worksheet once again….

5) At the same time, ask the groups that have one, to open their “good news.”


As each group grapples with their packet, offer guidance regarding the obstacles they are trying to overcome and the choices they are making –

For example, if the family has a baby in need of diapers, is it really realistic for them to cut that out of the budget? Maybe it is…Maybe there is a diaper bank available, or diapers are readily available at the food pantry — but make sure the kids understand that the diapers have to come from somewhere.

Is it realistic to cut down on food? Again, maybe – but that may require dependence on a local food pantry. Are they willing to do that? How might they feel? Grateful? Ashamed? Maybe a little of each?

After 30 minutes (or sooner if they’re ready), ask each group to share a little bit about their “family’s” situation — the obstacles presented and the financial choices they felt each family needed to make. For families who ultimately could not support themselves independently without making unrealistic changes to their budgets, ask the students to come up with other options — these could include getting a roommate/ trying to live as a unit in a family member’s home/ splitting up to live across multiple family members’ homes, living in their car, seeking public or private emergency shelter, etc.

Note that in some states, tent and car living is a very real necessity for many families, and in several U.S.cities it is common to see parents with young children in tow, asking for money on the streets. Because the State of Massachusetts is a “Right to Shelter” State for families that qualify, we have a lot less of that. Nevertheless, even in Massachusetts there are many families living in unsafe conditions, “doubling up, ” etc., as most families consider emergency shelter to be a last resort.