Interactive Monday: Where should the government be spending your tax dollars?

Jan 06, 2019
Interactive, Taxes, Current Events

Thanks to Jessica, knee-deep in updating NGPF's Tax Unit the past few days, for passing along this excellent tax interactive from the National Priorities Project. Budgets are important. Why? One can tell a lot by analyzing them. They reflect a person, a company or, in this case, a country's priorities. 

This interactive, Your Federal Income Tax Receipt, allows students to see the current federal priorities funded by their income taxes and the taxes paid by their parents/guardians. After entering the amount of federal taxes paid (I recommend using a nice round number like $100 which will make percentages easier to calculate:), students will see where those tax dollars go. 

Here's where that $100 was spent (partial view) in 2017:


Before doing the interactive:

  • What do you think are the three main priorities of the federal government? 

After doing the interactive:

  • What are the five largest cost categories for government spending? 
  • We often hear that "government needs to cut their wasteful spending." 
    • What percentage of government spending comes from the five largest costs? 
    • Which of these do you think would be easiest to cut? Most difficult to cut? Explain. 
  • Interest on the national debt is about 14% of government costs. 
    • How does the government "go into" debt? 
    • Who does the government pay this interest to? 
    • How could a government reduce their national debt? 

Budgets are also about trade-offs, This activity gives students the chance to make choices based on their priorities on this Trade-Offs page

They choose a program (e.g,. foreign aid, federal prisons, Medicaid) and see what else that money could have paid for. Here's the tradeoff page for Federal Prisons:

Activity idea: Students choose three programs where they think budget dollars should be reallocated. They then make choices on how they would spend that money using the menu of choices provided. This should lead to a great discussion about priorities and how students might spend the money differently than how the federal government is spending it today. 


Check out more engaging activities in the NGPF Interactive Library, complete with activity worksheets! 




About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.