Game-based learning is an engaging and effective way to teach students, and it can be especially useful for teaching students how to manage money because it empowers them to learn from their own decisions. Here are 10 free, popular games for high school students to learn how to navigate their finances.
1. Payback: Payback nudges students to think about how to succeed in college without taking on excessive student debt. Tony Montgomery, a teacher at an alternative high school in New York City, says, “Payback teaches students that it is very important to have a healthy balance between academics, work, and social activities while continuing to manage your debt.”
2. Spent: Spent challenges players to survive the struggle of low-income living. Developed by McKinney to raise money for Urban Ministries of Durham, the game has become a hit in financial literacy classrooms. “Spent allows students to truly understand some of the incredibly hard decisions families, living paycheck to paycheck, have to make on a daily basis,” says Courtney Poquette, a business educator from Winooski, Vermont.
3. Financial Football: These two fast-paced, sports-themed, interactive games engage students in quiz bowl–style questions to advance players up the field. Both Visa-created games have been recently updated with new questions and graphics and include various levels of difficulty and game lengths to make it easier for teachers to differentiate in the classroom. Players can play against the computer or each other.
4. Shady Sam: Shady Sam demonstrates how loan terms can hurt borrowers who don’t pay attention. Players take on the role of a loan shark. The more the customers pay in interest and fees, the higher the score for the game player. Julius Prezelski, a teacher at Mount St. Joseph High School in Maryland, noted that students realize “how the loan game works and how lenders take advantage of consumers.”
5. STAX: Amanda Volz, a student at St. Clair High School in Michigan, describes STAX as an “engaging, fast-paced interactive game that allows students to experience 20 years of investing in just 20 minutes... and proves that index investing is always a winner!” This game ignites the emotion that investors often feel while trading during turbulent times. Game players can compete against the computer or against one another.
6. Money Magic: Money Magic is designed to teach basic budgeting principles. The main character, Enzo, represents the human tendency to value short-term gratification. The game challenges students to balance immediate wants with long-term plans. Jacqueline Prester, a Mansfield High School teacher in Massachusetts, loves Money Magic “because it gives my students a fun and competitive way to practice their budgeting skills in a nontraditional environment.”
7. The Payoff: In this game, students play the role of a video blogger preparing for a life-changing competition while managing money and unexpected events. The game interface simulates a mobile phone where players can check their bank or open faux websites. The immersive, experiential game requires the user to help their character make smart financial decisions.
8. Hit the Road: A Financial Adventure: This interactive game teaches young people the importance of saving and spending wisely. Students go on a virtual road trip across the country learning how to manage their money wisely. They learn the value of creating a budget, responsible spending, and debt management. I use the game in my special education class because it has straightforward instructions.
9. The Uber Game; In this game, students play the role of a full-time Uber driver—with two kids—who is trying to pay the mortgage. The interactive game, created by the Financial Times, challenges students to face life circumstances of those in the gig economy. Lois Stoll, a veteran Family and Consumer Science teacher from a rural school in Ohio, says, “Seems so easy, right? Just drive a car and earn money in the gig economy! Wait until you try to make the mortgage payment driving an Uber car for a week. Just not as easy as you think!"
10. Credit Clash: Credit Clash is a fun and interactive way to learn about credit scores. Brett Shifrin of the Gould Academy in Maine observed his students learning that when their credit score increased, their future loan payment amounts were reduced because they got loans at lower interest rates. One of his students summarized what he learned, saying, “Taking out multiple loans and being able to pay them all dramatically improves your credit.”