Skip to content

Examples of Generalizing Personal Finance Concepts

Close up on student hands counting coins and stacking them. They have an open mouth smiling facial expression showing interest.

At a Glance

Pasta Soapbox Derby: Utilizes a fun, hands-on activity where students build cars from pasta to learn about transactions and budgeting in a tactile way, promoting understanding of spending limits and cost management.

Special Class Events: Involves students in planning events with a set budget, teaching how to balance costs, and introducing the concept of saving as a way to extend budget capabilities for more want-based choices.

Class Business and Stock Market Game: Integrates real-world financial skills by managing a class business with an ongoing budget, and using stock market games to teach about types of investments, risk management, and the potential outcomes of different financial strategies.

Welcome back to the Personal Finance Series, where we have been taking a closer look at ways we can talk about and practice financial skills with Autistic students based on goals and needs rather than a particular abstract standard of completion. 

In Part 1 we focused on what some financial literacy outcomes might look like, while in Part 2 we talked about how to broach money concepts in the classroom, and in Part 3 looked at some of the different stages of personal finance with increasingly complex financial concepts. 

Today we are digging into some examples of generalizing different financial concepts in the classroom through various activities. 

While no activity will be a perfect 1:1 translation of a practical skills practice, it is a great idea to practice financial concepts across a variety of settings, and sometimes alternate activities can help with focusing on the core mechanics of a given concept before incorporating all the real world details such a skill might encompass. 

So let’s take a look at a few activities and what they can help us accomplish!

Pasta Soapbox Derby - Transactions and Simple Budgeting

Pasta Soapbox Derby is exactly what it sounds like - you build cars out of pieces of pasta then race them down a ramp like you would in any other model car derby. But what makes this activity work so well with transactions and budget? Well, the great part about Pasta Boxcar Derby is that outside of the basic form of the car, there are many many ways to glue different types of pasta together to send it rolling down a ramp and try to optimize its speed. 

It’s also fun to use the different shapes to create your own design that looks different from anyone else’s! This primer focuses more heavily on the engineering side, but classrooms looking to focus on a financial component can set a fixed budget for each student and can “sell” pasta pieces in a classroom store that students can revisit and purchase additional pasta from over the course of building their car. 

Students can have the transactional experience of producing a particular amount of money, getting change, and seeing what they can afford based on what they have. Technically they do not need to put together a whole budget to do that! But teachers looking to incorporate a full budget into the lesson can make planning the budget out a part of the activity, or students can record their transactions as they go and see how their budget looked at the end. 

Whether students end up spending the right amount, run out of money too quickly, or realize in the end they could have spent more, it can be an illustrative lesson in how budget can help us be better prepared for the task we want to complete. 

Special Class Events - Planning With a Budget and Saving

Throughout a school year there are many occasions during which a class party or celebration might be appropriate, and whatever time that might be in your classroom that is a great time to plan some of the basics together as a class and making choices to build an event budget. 

As teacher you can set some guardrails around this exercise, but a helpful starting point is to consider some cheaper and more expensive options for what could be included in the event, and purposefully offering options where if students consistently choose the more expensive option they will go over budget. 

This can be a great lesson in how budget informs our choices, and it can also be an opportunity to talk about ways of “saving up” to have enough money to allow for all the more expensive options if that is what students want to work toward. In this case “saving” can be a more abstract concept, perhaps based on the class completing certain tasks or simply waiting a little longer for the celebration than they would have otherwise. 

As long as we are offering the experience of the way a real world budget can impact our options moving forward we are sharing a helpful lesson in financial planning!

Class Business - Ongoing Budget, Tracking Income and Expenditures

We have previously talked about starting a classroom business in a five part series on our blog and even have a free resource for anyone interested in pursuing that kind of project with their class. 

Classroom businesses can already be a popular project and one great way they can be used to talk about financial literacy is the way that the activity can call for the use of an ongoing budget that accounts for income and expenditures over time. 

Making decisions about what components of a class business to invest in, knowing that the goal is to raise more money than is spent, and doing so week over week can be a great and relatively low pressure way to track a budget over time that, thanks to the guardrails established by the teacher, is unlikely to get out of hand or become extremely difficult to manage. 

As a bonus, a business operating long term can start with the whole class looking at the budget together, and as it becomes more routine can be handled by individual students as one of the class roles. School stores or snack stations are a great starting point for incorporating a number of different types of purchases into a budget, but it can work with just about any type of business you might settle on.

Stock Market Game - Types of Investment

Investment might be one of the most abstract financial concepts we teach, and it can be difficult to convey why some investment decisions might be better or less risky than others apart from talking about concepts like compound interest or showing how the math works. 

But how do we know what makes a good investment and what makes a risky one? While there is no perfect way to demonstrate the value of various financial instruments, one-way students can get a sense of what it’s like to try different investments is paper trading in a stock market game

The idea is to give students a fixed amount of money to invest and a little bit of time each week to make buying/selling decisions and track their investments. While paper trading isn’t a perfect approximation of actually trading on the stock market, it can offer students a lived experience of the pros and cons of various investing strategies, like the huge risk involved with investing all of your money in a single penny stock hoping for a quick short term profit versus the smaller but more steady rate of return investing in established stocks and letting them grow over time. 

At the end of the year students can reflect on the various strategies they took and who ended up being most successful. Perhaps a couple of speculators struck it rich, but how many people who took a big speculative risk lost a lot of money? Were students who kept a handful of reputable stocks the whole year surprised to find out how much they grew? 

Again, paper stocks are not the same as real stock trading and should not be treated as such, but it is a great way to convey to students in practice why some investments can be so risky and how seemingly conservative investments can still offer great yields.


With that, we are wrapping up for the week but we will be back with one more post on personal finance covering some helpful resources for teachers and students. 

Until then if you’d like to share your experience teaching or learning about personal finance then we would love to hear from you! Just drop us a line at and we will be back next week to round out the series.

Green squiggly line to mark the end of the blog post
Previous article Teaching Financial Literacy and Personal Finance Resources
Next article Stages of Personal Finance When Teaching Financial Literacy

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields