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Online Game Teaches MCHS Students How Life Choices Affect Wealth

MICHIGAN CITY — In her 11 years of teaching economics classes at Michigan City High School, Krissy Freitag has taught students about concepts like opportunity cost, but she thought students may fail to relate the concepts to their present lives.

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Then, in April, she received an email from Banzai, a national program that uses online software to teach financial literacy to students. The software sets up a game in which the user has just graduated high school and must save $2,000 to start college.

However, many obstacles stand in the way to winning the game. The students must learn how to handle rent, gas, groceries, jobs, taxes and more, including the temptations of entertainment.

Freitag used the program for the past three weeks with the 70 students in her two senior-level Advanced Placement classes.

“Most of the scenarios were things that were common for students to do, so that made it more realistic,” she said.

The software has been easy to use and helps teach a variety of the same economic concepts, she said. In addition, the game brings the concepts together. For example, the game shows the role of opportunity cost, which is the cost of giving up the next best alternative.

Freitag likes how the game shows how small choices affect the next transaction, which affect the next one. One choice could mean the difference between saving enough or not. She also likes the way the game creates random scenarios and students can keep playing and have different results.

Since the user cannot know what scenario will arise next, the user must be consistent in making good financial choices on small items all the time.

Senior Tara Seizys said the game is fun, although, so far, she only has saved $1,200. She realized saving money is harder than she thought. Now that she is playing the game, she knows the importance of prioritizing expenses like the cost of college, and she would tell her previous self not to spend on unnecessary things.

Although she still had not won, she could give two tips: First, set aside money from each paycheck to save. Second, be mindful of the alternatives, such as a choice between going to an expensive store, or an expensive restaurant, or a less expensive one.

On the other hand, the less expensive option can also be worse, senior Richer Huynh said. For investment items, sometimes longevity can be worth the cost. For example, a cheap car can mean expensive upkeep.

“It may be cheaper in the short term, but in the long term it might fail on you,” Huynh said.

The randomness of the events seemed realistic, he said, because the future can bring the unexpected.

Senior Allen Murray said it took him two tries to win. He said he had fun seeing the effect of wrong choices, and he was surprised at how many wrong choices the user can make.

He learned that not obtaining insurance can be an extremely bad choice. He experienced a flood in his apartment and had to pay $3,900 because he was not insured for floods.

“I definitely learned how to more efficiently manage my money,” Murray said.

Senior Alejandro Miller said he won on the first try with $2,267 saved for college. He has always been taught to save, and he had a bank account at an early age.

He advised people to start saving as soon as possible and to limit paying for clothes, movies and restaurants when they are not necessary.

Purdue Federal Credit Union sponsors the program in this area.

Megan Stearns, credit counselor for the company, said it believes financial literacy is important for both future clients and the labor pool. The greater the proportion in the general population with good financial skill, the likelier that clients keep their loans from going bad and the likelier that people will be qualified to work for the company.

Financial education to the youth is important, she said. The credit union also gives financial literacy presentations at schools.

“The earlier we get to them, usually the better,” Stearns said.

The credit union usually purchases and distributes more than 100 booklets per month to school teachers, she said.

Banzai public relations representative Rachel Yentes said more than 14,000 teachers use the program throughout the United States.

Teachers interested in using the Banzai program can visit or call 888-8-BANZAI.

Banzai interactive courses are fun and FREE. Go ahead.