Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Budget day at our Financial Summer Camp

Monday, we had only one hour of "camp".  The whole thing sparked lots of conversations.

We began by looking at a budget form available from
We asked (out loud, not writing anything down) questions about categories.  What's the difference between rent and mortgage?  What kinds of utilities are there?  Notice how many different car expenses there are! 

This all was just warm up, though.  Then we whipped out pencils for a worksheet I'd made for them.
I really can't decide whether the fact that I make nerdy financial worksheets for my kids to work on during the summer makes me the Worst Mom Ever [c'mon, really?!?] or one of the most helpful moms I could possibly be.  Or both at the same time, perhaps.  At any rate, the skills to practice with their Monday afternoon worksheet included how to read a chart, think about food costs, and an introduction to Excel spreadsheets.
Consider the data from the USDA on “Cost of Food at Home atFour Levels, U.S. Average”.  [note: I'd printed this out on pre-cycled paper for them.]

  1. If you were to move out into your own apartment, which category would you belong to?  Underline this line.
  2. Do you think you would eat according to the “thrifty”, “low-cost”, “moderate cost” or “liberal” plan?
  3. According to this, how much would you expect to spend each week on food? 
  4. According to this, how much would you expect to spend each month on food?   [Add this number to your budget].
  5. Our family doesn’t fit into one of the USDA categories.  We have one male 61 years, one female 48 years, one female 22 years, and males who are 14 and 15.   What would the USDA expect us to spend each week on food?  (Give a range from thrifty to liberal).
  6. We spend approximately $150/week on food.  Does this match what the USDA expects?  Why do you think this is?
  7. Compare the expenses of young (19–50 years) families with two people to old families (51–70 years) families with two people.  According to this data, who spends more?
  8.  Be creative; guess some reasons why your answer to #7 might be true – that is, why would older people spend less money on food than younger people. 

 I like that these questions had a variety of activities.  Some steps were as easy as circling numbers; others had a bit more work.  At step 6, I whipped out Excel and showed them how it could add numbers quickly (although J-son, to my surprise, decided he wanted to add the numbers by hand just to make sure he could).  

I also liked our guesses for the last question: why old couples spend less on food than young couples.  My guess was: "they eat less".  But J-son said, "they know what they want already", and K-daughter -- who'd joined in because this was fun (?) -- said, "because they know how to cook".

As a follow-up, the kids prepared a shopping list of everything we might eat in the upcoming week.  We’ll go to market today, and we'll compare our shopping list to what this data says.


  1. One of my soon-to-be former colleagues has a paper on why older people spend less on food than younger. (Answer: because they cook, which they do because they have more time and less money compared to younger people.)

    1. I'll be sure to tell K-daughter! Thanks! -MM

  2. I am seriously impressed with your summer boot camp. These are great skills to be teaching your kids! You could even market this if you cared to.

    I've got a lot of time ahead of me before this becomes applicable, but maybe I'll do this in a decade or so :-)

    1. Thanks, Penn! I don't know if this makes it less impressive, but there's a big part of me that thinks of this camp as "self-defense". The boys can be really destructive if they're bored and unsupervised, and so I not only want to keep them occupied this summer, but also make sure that someday they can move out of my home and be fully functioning adults.

      But I'm delighted that K-daughter (who is incredibly self-sufficient and cheerful and not at all destructive) has voluntarily come to join us on many of our "camp" activities, and she tells me she's picked up a lot of good advice. -MM