Pineland Dollars - A Classroom Economy At Work!

Jun 03, 2018
NGPF Fellows, Budgeting, Behavioral Finance, Economics, Teaching Strategies
Teachers will share their experiences in the classroom and how they apply what they learned at NGPF PD events (FinCamps, FinCamps PLUS, Summer Institute and Summit). This week, we focus on NGPF Fellow, Maureen Neuner, from Pinelands Regional High School, Little Egg Harbor (NJ), who explains her 'Pineland Dollars' (named after her school) classroom economy!
Another project we do since we are in the money unit of our class is our "Pinelands Dollars." I set up a simulated saving, earning and investment section where the students can earn "Pinelands Dollars" for jobs they have in class or for something extra they do during our class period.  They get paid on Fridays if they have a job and can earn money during the week at any given time for something extra. They can use their "Pinelands Dollars" for different uses like saving, spending, and investing (when we start our investing unit.)  I give them time to deposit the money with their bank, keep track of their activities in their bank register and ask them to decide what they are saving for. I have some things they can purchase on Fridays like water, snacks, fruit, stuff like that that. I also have silly stuff that they could spend money on. Like wearing a hat in class, listening to music if we are working on a project, or sitting next to their friends. I also charge them if they forgot a pen or pencil, if they are late to class, forgot an assignments, use their phone during class when they aren't supposed to or need to use the restroom during class! The student with the most money at the end of the section wins a gift card.
The Pinelands Dollars are fun but it can be a lot of work. It works well for me because I have 9th grade students for a full year class. The fun thing is we can see who will be savers, who will be spenders and who will be in debt! It's good for life lessons!
It also ties in well with the whole banking unit. Depending on how many students I have in class, I ask for volunteers to be the banks. That is a job for them for which they get paid $5 a week. They also earn money by participating in class, bringing in a topic to discuss that's in the news, anything extra or work well done. The bankers have to verify the amounts the students have deposited with them and check the student's registers to see if things are recorded properly. For the first few times they have to use deposit tickets and withdraw slips just to practice "old time banking." After that, we just make deposits and withdrawals without the slips.
Before we start all this, I explain what we are doing and ask them for suggestions of things that would be worth money to them. Some things they say are wearing a hat in class, listening to music while working, a lav pass and other things like that that they can buy to be used at a later date. They also give me some ideas for snacks. On Fridays, I pick up some snacks and water and things. It's a limited supply though, so once it's sold out, there isn't any more.  I have students set everything up and be the store keepers. Those are jobs they get paid for as well. Not as much work so they only get $3 per week. It does cost me a little money but it isn't too bad.  (I make the prices kind of high on the snacks because I want them to really decide if they want to spend that much.) I also charge them if they are late for class, don't hand in their work, prepared for class, things like that. 
They cannot borrow money from the banks but other students may lend them money if they choose. The students make up the terms of the agreement. Discussions here are funny because we have to discuss usury laws and borrowing! The lending students soon learn the lesson of lending money to family or friends. Last year I had to cut someone off from borrowing because they weren't paying the other student back and was getting into severe debt! He was a great example to use during our credit unit! If they are in debt, I offer them some sort of job so they can make extra money to pay off their debt. 
For the investing, I give them a choice of 4 mutual funds to invest in and they have to stay with their choices. Its separate from our investing unit where we look at individual stocks, mutual funds and bonds. With the mutual funds, they have to ride out the ups and downs. I always stress about being in for the long haul. We keep track in an Excel spreadsheet. I pay them the percentage the funds went up or they pay me if they lose money. 
The person with the most money at the end gets a $10 gift certificate and their name on my wall as Winner with the Most Money!
I've been doing this for three years now and things change every year. Sometimes I have to make up rules as we go because that situation didn't come up before. The kids seem to like it and it makes them more aware of money, spending and saving. It's also great for "in the moment" teaching. It takes more time at the beginning but the kids get the hang of it pretty quickly. I usually run this during my banking, saving, investing and credit units, so it's not for the whole year. 

About the Author

Laura Matchett

After graduating with an education degree and spending 7 years in an elementary classroom, Laura made the switch to the non-profit world and loves interacting with students, educators and business professionals across the country. She is passionate about all students having access to high quality education and views personal finance education as one way to ‘level the playing field’. When Laura is not locating or creating high quality educational resources, you can find her mountain biking or searching for the best ramen in town!