Properly managing personal finances is critical to success in adulthood, and yet teenagers are woefully under-educated and under-informed when it comes to money matters. In response to this nationwide shortcoming, H&R Block founded Dollars & Sense to provide teens with financial management skills that will last throughout adulthood.
Why the H&R Block Budget Challenge?
High schoolers are graduating without basic financial skills. As young adults, their first exposure to real-life situations can result in costly mistakes, overwhelming debt and an unstable financial future.
A recent study by H&R Block Dollars & Sense found that 57% of teens make purchases using their own money but only 17% maintain a budget. The H&R Block Budget Challenge is like a road test for financial management. Players learn how to time their student and auto loan payments, the consequences of being late on rent, how to stay under their credit limit and more, all through a 9-week online simulation.
“America’s teenagers need to learn and practice budgeting skills now so they can manage their personal finances later. The H&R Block Budget Challenge is unique because it allows students to learn by doing. But unlike the real world, all they have to lose is points – not their credit or hard-earned money,” said Bill Cobb, president and chief executive officer of H&R Block.
How Did It Work?
Each student was given a job and salary. Then, each student set up accounts with a number of vendors from cell phone companies to cable providers. Throughout the simulation, bills arrived and students were challenged to figure out how to balance their paycheck and pay their bills, as well as contribute to their 401k plans. Scores were determined based on the amount in a student’s 401k, the ability to pay bills on time (fees detract from the score) and performance on short finance quizzes offered every few days.
Teachers were also given lesson plans and classroom materials to help educate and guide their class through the simulation.
The 2015 Winner: A Future Chemical Engineer
Sean Lawrence, a St. Clair, Michigan, high school senior, has won $120,000 in college scholarships as grand-prize winner of the H&R Block Budget Challenge — a teen financial literacy program that simulates an adult’s financial life and rewards students for mastering real-world financial decision-making.
Lawrence earned the $100,000 scholarship for having the most “real world ready” financial skills out of 93,980 high school students in 5,621 classrooms nationwide after participating in the 2014-2015 Budget Challenge program. He received an additional $20,000 scholarship for placing in the top 22 of his simulation, earning a total of $120,000 to apply toward his education.
Lawrence plans to study chemical engineering at Macomb Community College, Charter Township of Clinton, Michigan, for two years and then transfer to Western Michigan University. His future goals include working hard at a well-paying job, while investing in retirement and saving for a house and a car.
Reflecting on the knowledge that he and other teens have gained through the Budget Challenge, Lawrence said, “Learning about money management before going into the real world allows teens to make the right choices, or have the correct knowledge so they don’t end up as the typical American with mountains of debt.”
Learning by doing approach
The H&R Block Budget Challenge uses a learn-by-doing educational approach that allows students to experience personal finance activities in the safety of a classroom, before heading out into the real world on their own. Participants play classroom against classroom and student against student, competing for $3 million in grants, scholarships and cash prizes.
“Our goal with The Budget Challenge is to arm teens with the personal finance skills and confidence they need to succeed when they’re out on their own. It’s an investment in American teens,” said Cobb.
H&R Block awarded more than $3 million in grants, scholarships and prizes through the Budget Challenge in the 2014-2015 school year. Teachers who are interested in registering for the program can find details this August at www.hrblockdollarsandsense.com. For additional background on the program prior to open registration, please read this post for an introduction to the program.