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Game teaches smart budgets

Nearly 10,000 secondary school students throughout West Virginia have stretched budgets to purchase cars and buy homes.

The students actually spent fictional money and pretended to buy these big-ticket items through "Get A Life," a game that teaches financial planning. The game was launched in 2009 by West Virginia State Treasurer John Perdue's office as part of a broader financial education initiative known as NetWorth, a program that includes financial education for grades kindergarten through 12.

"A few years back, John Perdue realized we needed to get financial education into the schools," said Tom Vogel, director of financial education for the state Treasurer's Office.

NetWorth came first as teachers around the state developed lesson plans. It was later discovered that a game called "Get A Life" had been developed as a student project at Fairmont State University. 

It seemed a perfect fit for teaching financial responsibility, Vogel said.

"Get A Life" was first introduced to students at Elkview Middle School.

"We ran with it and partnered with the Chamber of Commerce Leadership West Virginia Program," Vogel said. "That group helped us get volunteers."

Community volunteers work with the students as they introduce them to how purchases are made in the real world. These volunteers are actual real estate agents, car salesmen, insurance professionals, and grocers.

Each student is told what job is held at what salary along with the size of the family to be supported. The student is then told to manage a budget to cover the cost of a house, a car, groceries, gas and other expenses. The first part of the game figures the worker has a high school education.

As students make financial decisions, they tend to spend too much and go bankrupt, Vogel said.

During the second part of a session, the student is allowed to start over with a college degree and make similar purchasing decisions at a higher salary.

Also, at any point a student may be handed a card with an unexpected expense such as a medical bill or home repair.

"The behavior of the students is amazing," Vogel said. "They really get engaged. Students have said they didn't realize their parents put out so much money. They realize it is important to buy what they need before what they want."

They also see that education can have a direct impact on salary and lifestyle.

Each session of the game lasts about 90 minutes.

Vogel said a small grant is covering expenses for administering the program right now.

"We have some grant money to pay people sparingly to do these events," he said.

He said teachers in 35 counties have undergone training for the program and have kits that are shared in various secondary schools in their respective areas.

"We've probably touched 10,000 students by now," he said. "We would like to carry this even further. We need to do more teacher training."

For more information about "Get A Life," call Vogel at 304-341-7083.

Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at or 304-348-1246.


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