Jan 21, 2023

How to Incorporate Arcade Games in the Classroom: SPENT

SPENT is a game in which the player experiences living paycheck to paycheck. They start the game jobless and homeless with only $1000. They are faced with difficult choices along the way. It is a challenge to make it through the month. You can find the game under the Arcade tab, with a link to the game and to a suggested reflection sheet.


This series is designed to give teachers new to Arcade Games some tips from teachers who have lots of experience and excellent suggestions on how to use them in class. Even if you have used a game with your students, a quick read of this post might give you some new ideas.



Teacher Laura Falk wholeheartedly endorses using SPENT in the classroom:

My students LOVE playing this game! They usually are surprised as they play, as they see the tough choices they have to make as adults. Most play it multiple times so they can make different choices and see the different outcomes. I highly recommend doing this with your class! It's also great to leave for a day you are out, as the students can do it independently.



The teachers who offered their advice fell into three categories in terms of when in the curriculum they have their students play the game, and their comments are grouped accordingly.  But all of the teacher suggestions are helpful regardless of when you decide to introduce the game.


The first group of teachers recommends having the students play the game on the very first day or two of class. Students play the game individually for 15-20 minutes and then a class discussion takes place with or without the use of the reflection sheet that NGPF provides for the game. It is a great way to drive home the point that your personal finance class will give students the skills to manage their financial lives successfully.


Amanda Volz prepared this Pro Tip video describing how she uses SPENT on the first day of class. Laurie Gardner has the students play the game either before or after watching the related video Spent (40 minutes) on the first two days of class.


Kayla Bosun also uses the game on the first day of school. Here is her suggestion:

The kids can usually figure it out on their own, but I challenge them to show me how much money they have left after 30 days, and give a piece of candy to the person who has the most. I also lead discussion about what it felt like to be broke and about some of the decisions they were forced to make. Then I tell them the point of my class is to give them the tools to manage their finances in a way that they won’t have to feel like that in their adult lives.


Maureen Neuner offers this advice on using the game on one of the first days of the semester:

I use the reflection sheet as group discussion questions…It's a good way to get to know the students at the beginning of the year. I really like talking with the students about this game. It brings up values and expectations of where they see themselves in the future.


The second group of teachers use SPENT as an introductory activity at the beginning of their budgeting unit. Courtney Poquette offers this advice on playing the game, which could apply regardless of when you decide to use the game.

In the past I have structured this with having students play and then discuss as a group after. The challenge with these games is that students finish at different times and some want to play longer than others. So I have found that building them into a self-paced class allows some students to play once and move on and others to try to play multiple times with different scenarios along the way.


Renee Hochanadel also uses the game to introduce her budgeting unit. She begins with the QOD (Question of the Day) on how many Americans earning $250,000 live paycheck to paycheck. She then asks the first question from the reflection sheet before having the students play the game. She offers her method of using the rest of the reflection worksheet more collaboratively:

When everyone is done we stand up and do think pair and share. Then I have them find a partner and discuss question 3, then find someone else and discuss the next question and do this until time runs out or we make it through all questions. When there is 5 min left I have them return to their seats and give me one word to describe the experience in quick fire succession.


Sara Shacket uses the QOD about Americans who can't cover a $400 emergency to introduce SPENT. Here is her advice:

Spent is excellent as a way to motivate attention during savings and budgeting units…During our class debrief, I suggest that while life can and will throw curve balls, if we are serious about saving money and budgeting wisely, then it will at least be less stressful. My hot tip for a new user is to remind students that they can access extra money by breaking the piggy bank and by selling plasma. Otherwise, kids miss that.



Finally, some teachers use SPENT at the end of the budgeting unit. Renee Nelson described how she uses the game this way:

This end of unit group of lessons was coined "How reality can strike". The lesson that preceded playing this game was a on predatory lending, impulse spending and student loan repayment, and "Spent" was a summation and addition to this mini-unit.

(Renee also suggests that if you are going to use the reflection sheet, you put both the game and the reflection sheet in a NearPod so that students can toggle between them.)


Steve Penley uses it at the end of the unit to help students make connections to real life:

I use Spent at the end of my unit. It is an excellent way to engage students in active learning via a gaming platform. We generally "talk" about the game out loud as students are playing and afterwards as a class focused on the "what" was learned and big take-aways.


Jill Thompson also uses the game at the end of the unit and says that the students like to play it more than once to see what happens when they make different choices along the way.


Whether you decide to try this at the beginning of the class, the beginning of the unit, end of the unit, or you decide to pull something together for a sub/emergency lesson plan, your students will get a lot out of playing SPENT.  Hopefully these teacher tips will help you figure out what will work best for you and for your students.   


Resources and Links:


The Game and Videos

Kick off the class with a relevant Question of the Day 

  • QOD living paycheck-to-paycheck on $250,000
  • QOD covering a $400 emergency

Follow-up with an article on the subject 

  • If you are looking for a relevant and very recent article to incorporate in your lesson, try this one about 20-somethings struggling to save money. (New York Times)

About the Author

Beth Tallman

Beth Tallman entered the working world armed with an MBA in finance and thoroughly enjoyed her first career working in manufacturing and telecommunications, including a stint overseas. She took advantage of an involuntary separation to try teaching high school math, something she had always dreamed of doing. When fate stepped in once again, Beth jumped on the opportunity to combine her passion for numbers, money, and education to develop curriculum and teach personal finance at Oberlin College. Beth now spends her time writing on personal finance and financial education, conducts student workshops, and develops finance curricula and educational content. She is also the Treasurer of Ohio Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

Mail Icon

Subscribe to the blog

Join the more than 11,000 teachers who get the NGPF daily blog delivered to their inbox: