The Democracy Project

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Budget Making

Subjects: Math/Social Studies

Estimated Time of Completion: four to six fifty minute class periods

  1. I. Summary
  2. II. Objectives
  3. III. Materials Needed
  4. IV. Procedure
  5. V. Classroom Assessment
  6. VI. Extensions and Adaptations
  7. VII. Relevant Standards

I. Summary

Most services like public health care, education and highway construction cost money because the government must pay people to provide these services and pay for materials. Citizens pay taxes to the government, so the government can afford to provide these services. This lesson will help students identify local, state, and federal government services, their cost and the income that pays for them.

II. Objectives

  • Students will determine how much money they have (based on personal allowance or class average allowance) and how much they can afford to spend or save.
  • Students will become familiar with creating budgets (personal, family and government).
  • Students will identify major services provided by the national, state and local government.
  • Students will know how services are paid for.
  • Students will create pie graphs and use these for drawing conclusions and making figure comparisons.

III. Materials Needed

  • Price tags, three pieces of inexpensive candy
  • Computers with Internet access and a spreadsheet software program with graphing capabilities
  • Optional: toy catalogues

IV. Procedure

  1. Begin by asking students if they get an allowance at home. If so, what is it? What are their jobs and responsibilities to earn this money? Allow students to use a toy catalogue or an online toy Web site to spend an imaginary $3.00 allowance. Inspire thinking by asking students questions like, "How many weeks must you save to be able to afford the $19.00 computer game?"
  2. Place three different candy items with different prices in front of the students. Tell students that they have $1.00 and the items are priced at twenty-five, fifty, and seventy-five cents. Question the students about which item(s)they can afford to buy. Discuss making choices based on what one can afford: the fact that sometimes we want things that cost a lot more than what we have, so we have to settle for something slightly different because it is cheaper, or save our money for a longer period of time. Explain to students that a budget is a plan of how to spend money wisely. Who makes budgets? Brainstorm a list. This could include individuals, families, businesses, schools, places of worship, clubs and governments.
  3. Ask students how many have a budget already. Allow students to create a budget with their allowance money by drawing a circle graph. If students do not get an allowance, allow them an average rate of the class. Depending upon the maturity and age of the student, you may have to provide some guidance. Tell students that they must have a category for savings; then explore the other items that might be in their budgets (charitable donations, entertainment, etc.). Limit categories or slices of the circle to three for third graders and six for sixth graders.
  4. Ask students why the U.S. government (and local governments, too) would need a budget. What expenses do they have? Students should visit the online game "How Does Government Affect Me?" and click around the town to learn more about the types of services governments provide.
  5. Once students are familiar with government services, the teacher should explain that there is never enough tax money to pay for everything citizens want. One important presidential job is helping decide a budget for the government. This requires choices like those made in the classroom.
  6. Using a classroom projection device to share the computer screen or using an overhead, show students graphs of government spending. This U.S. government Web site "A Citizen's Guide to the Federal Budget" might be especially helpful.
  7. After having been exposed to the pie graph of national spending, ask students to take the national budget and decide if the percentages should be spent on different things. Students will be given the opportunity to express opinions on what they see as priorities for national spending. Students can create a new bar graph and mail it to their congressional representative with recommendations about needed budget adjustments.

IV. Classroom Assessment:

  • Excellent: The student has enthusiastically participated in all activities and added constructive ideas and suggestions to the discussions. The student visited the appropriate web sites, properly researched appropriate web sites for taxes and services, and participated in the activities located on the PBS web site. Students constructed very neat and well-organized pie and line graphs. The student's written paragraph demonstrated a very good understanding of the relationship between services and taxes.
  • Good: Students have participated in all activities added ideas and/or suggestions to the discussions. Students visited the appropriate Web sites, researched taxes and services, and participated in online games/activities. Students constructed very neat pie graphs. The student's written paragraph demonstrated a very good understanding of the relationship between services and taxes.
  • Fair: The students participated in most activities and discussions. The student visited the appropriate Web sites, participated in the research and in online activities/games. Students constructed pie graphs. The student wrote a paragraph demonstrating at least some understanding of the relationship between services and taxes. The student may have required a great deal of help, may have shown much frustration with the tasks, was very slow to complete tasks or failed to complete an assignment.
  • Poor: Students participated in few or none of the classroom activities and discussions. Students visited some Web sites, did little research and developed little or no writing assignments and/or graphs.

V. Extensions and Adaptations

  • The teacher may want to use the book Katy and the Snowman by Virginia Lee Burton with younger students to discuss government services in more detail. Katy, a snowplow, helps her community by clearing paths for the many workers in the town. This could serve as a springboard for writing about or discussing the services that need to continue.
  • Encourage older students to set up a budget for a household. Students could be allotted a certain amount of money to shop from the Internet and pretend to purchase homes, cars, furniture, etc. Alternatively, students could interview parents about the household budget and help create spreadsheets or charts describing family finances (this could be the entire household budget or a special budget created for a specific event, vacation, etc.).
  • Encourage younger students to set up a budget for a college savings account. Explain to students that from their weekly $3.00 allowance that they will be creating a budget that includes saving 85 cents (or a different amount) per week. Students will compute how much money they will have in five years and/or 10 years. Students can make a line graph showing growth in savings over time.
  • Students can then write a paragraph or paragraphs. A student's paragraph might address what students see as priorities for spending. Other ideas might include students' opinions on taxes: should taxes be raised? Why or why not? If not, where would students cut money to balance the budget? (See related lesson on federal deficit for more information.)

VII. Relevant National Standards

These are established by McREL:

Language Arts

  • Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process
  • Gathers and uses information for research purposes
  • Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the reading process
  • Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of informational texts
  • Demonstrates competence in speaking and listening as tools for learning


  • Knows the characteristics and uses of computer software programs, including the Internet


  • Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of measurement
  • Understands that data represents specific pieces of information about real-world objects or activities
  • Organizes and displays data in simple bar graphs, pie charts and line graphs
  • Understands that data comes in many different forms and that collecting, organizing and displaying data can be done in many ways
  • Solves real-world problems involving number operations (e.g., computations with dollars and cents)

Social Studies

  • Understands ideas about civic life, politics and government
  • Understands the sources, purposes, and functions of law and the importance of the rule of law for the protection of individual rights and the common good
  • Knows the major things government do in one's school, community, state and nation (e.g., make, carry out, and enforce laws; manage conflicts; provide national security)
  • Knows how to distinguish among national, state and local governments
  • Knows major services provided by national, state and local governments (e.g., state services such as education and health services and local services such as transportation, education, recreation, public safety, public utilities), and knows how these services are paid for (e.g., taxes, fees, licenses)
  • Understands that savings is the part of income not spent on taxes or consumption