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6 Budget Projects for Middle School Students (Make it Fun!)

Check out these budget projects for middle school students to self-discover lots of budgeting lessons (while having fun).

A budget project for middle school students can be just the thing to turn textbook money math practice and abstract budgeting concepts into real-life money lessons your students get to self-discover.

group of middle school students working on project with teacher, text overlay" budget projects for middle school students"

Use these budget project ideas for middle school students to learn things like:

  • How to tell the difference between needs and wants
  • Money math (counting money, calculating expenses, making change, etc.)
  • How to plan something out ahead of time
  • How to use a limited pot of money
  • etc. 

Let's get started!

Budget Projects for Middle School Students

Read through each of these budget projects for middle schoolers, and see which you could take and adapt for your own classroom.

1. Classroom Pet Budget Project

Do you have a classroom pet (or will you be getting one in the future)?

Great. Let’s tie that into a budget project for your middle schoolers.

Step #1: Create Your Survive & Thrive List

Part of budgeting for kids is understanding needs vs. wants. That’s why I want you to work with your students to create two supply lists:

  • Survive List: On this list, include each thing your pet needs in order to survive. Like water, food, a clean place to sleep, exercise area, any medicines, etc.
  • Thrive List: On this list, include a few “extras” that, while your classroom pet doesn’t need, could certainly make life more fun or more comfortable for them. For example, you might include a hamster ball for exercise, or a hamster tunnel for play.

Research the cost for each item, and include it in a pricing column to the right.

Hint: dealing with a younger class? Write your needs and wants items all over the board, and have your students raise their hands and tell you which items belong on the “survive list” and which items belong on the “thrive list”.

Step #2: Come Up with a Weekly or Monthly Classroom Pet Budget

How much can your classroom spend to take care of the pet each week or each month?

Estimate how much food the animal will need each week, and how much that will cost, plus any other needs.

If possible, set aside a few extra dollars each week added to a “Pet Slush Fund”.

Step #3: Use a Monopoly or Pretend Money Pay System

Get your students involved with the costs of the pet.

Pick a time each week when you’ll go over your money stats with everyone. Start with picking out free printable money (or Monopoly money), and counting out one weeks’ worth for the pet costs.

Each week, discuss with the classroom how much was spent last week or month (illustrating with the pretend money), and replenishing of the money for the following week/month.

As the pet has other needs, such as vet costs, discuss the need to save up for them. As the slush fund grows and is not being used, go ahead and let the class decide on a “thrive list” item to get for the pet.

Tweak as needed for your classroom and educational objectives! For example, you could create pet groups, and each group takes a turn with being the pet treasurer for the week. They report on how much money is in the pot, and how much will be added on X date. They also give a status update on supplies (such as food and bedding), and what needs to be replenished in the future. They make the pretend transaction that you, as teacher, will make in the store – using the printable money and coins.

2. Creating a Classroom Economy (Grades 3-5)

Scholastic has a great, year-long budget project for your classroom where you set up a classroom economy. Kids are given job roles, and salaries.  

Through a classroom store, kids will put concepts like saving, opportunity cost, supply and demand, and inflation in practice.

Lesson plans include:

  • Introducing the Classroom Economy
  • Opening Your Class Store and Bank
  • Using the Class Store to Teach Economic Principles
  • The Student Economist

Tons of free worksheets as well, such as a credit and debit log, class store math worksheets, blank check templates, opportunity costs and tradeoffs, etc.

3. Tie in a Budget Project with Market Day

I created a market day lesson plan on pricing, so that your students can get guidance on how to price their product.

Step #3 is really critical in this, because it is all about how much it costs for them to make one unit of their product.

Using this information, you can tack on a budgeting component to your next market day. As students sift through market day ideas for kids to sell and make, have them stick with a budget (or make one of their own, depending on how much they can afford to put into this).

Then, help them price, and how many units they would need to sell at those price points to make a profit.

4. Budgeting for a Trip (Grades 6-8)

Scholastic has a great, mini-budgeting project where students are asked to use $4,500 to plan a cross-country road trip.

With the help of the free printables, Calculating Vacation Costs and Project Outline: Going on Vacation, students will work on pricing out lodging, food, gas costs, etc. while handling the logistics of planning a multi-city trip.

What I like is kids are given choices for each category of vacation spending, and the cost is dependent on what they choose.

For example, they can choose a small compact vehicle that gets 35 mpg, a family sedan that gets 25 mpg, and a mini-van that gets 15 mpg. Think about the discussions that this could spark: tradeoffs between comfort and gas costs, figuring out who will sit where (or maybe compromising and rotating the passenger seat/driver), etc.

5. Shark Tank Project for Middle Schoolers

Have you heard of the hit show, Shark Tank? You know, where entrepreneurs of all ages pitch their startup and companies to a group of investors, hoping they’ll get more funding?

I’ve got a whole article filled with shark tank lesson plans you can work through with your middle school students.

Granted, they’re very entrepreneurial-based, so you’ll need to adapt them to help your students learn how to budget.

For example, you could ask your students to create a list of start-up costs for a business idea they want to pitch.  

6. Cost-Per-Serving Budget Project

Task your middle schoolers with creating a dinner meal that costs less than $2.50/person for a 4-person family.

You’ll need to prep this ahead of time by asking students to bring in grocery store circulars and coupons that they can find.

Divide your class up in pairs or groups, and provide each set with at least one grocery store circular (more than one is better, so that they can really shop around).

Download the menu from a local restaurant, and print it out (one for each set of students). Let the students choose one meal for each of the 4 people in their family to eat. Add up the total restaurant cost (plus tip – great time to discuss how to leave a tip!).

Give them a set of coupons and scissors, and the following scenario:

You have a family of 4, and need to come up with a dinner meal plan that comes in at under $2.50/person.

A great resource is MyPlate.gov, where you’ll find printouts such as blank meal plan calendars, dietary guidelines, meal ideas, etc. Apps such as the SuperCook Desktop version allow people to put in certain ingredients and it spits out recipes.

You can create your own rules about healthy eating. At a minimum, you could require that the meal includes:

  • A protein
  • A side dish with vegetables or fruits
  • A grain

Certain ingredients will not cost you money from your budget, because most households have these on hand already: cooking oil, salt, and pepper.  

Your students will need to calculate the cost of each food item in the recipe, and then divide that by the number of people eating the meal to find out the cost/person.

BudgetBytes.com has an awesome breakdown of how she prices out cost/serving, including the following info and rules you could use:

  • Use $0.10 for herbs and spices
  • You can use online shopping sites for pricing help, too (in case you don’t have enough circulars, or time to collect them)

Possible questions for discussion:

  • How much would it cost for your family of 4 to order from a local restaurant? How much does this family save by cooking the homemade meal instead of eating out for dinner (subtract your total homemade meal cost from your total restaurant cost)?
  • What ingredient costs surprised you, as either being more expensive than you thought, or much cheaper than you thought?  
  • Your total cost per serving came in at $____/person. What was the total cost of your groceries for all the ingredients?
  • What can you do with the leftover ingredients to keep your food costs as low as possible?

If you have the time and resources to go through a budgeting project more than once, then please do so! Kids can take the lessons they learned from doing it the first time through, and make changes the next time through. Either way, even doing one of these budgeting projects will help your students with their money management and budgeting skills.

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, a 2017 Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Money Prodigy. Amanda's kid money work has been featured on Experian, GoBankingRates, PT Money, CA.gov, Rockstar Finance, the Houston Chronicle, and Colonial Life. Read more here.