President Obama's Allowance


This lesson printed from:

Posted June 26, 2003

Standard: 16

Grades: 3-5

Author: Cross-Curricular Connections

Posted: June 26, 2003


In this lesson, students will identify different expenses in the US budget and will decide on the order of importance for different expenses.


Budget, Choice, Cost/Benefit Analysis, Government Expenditures, Taxation


  • Make decisions regarding the United States budget.
  • Develop a local community budget.


This school costs money to run. Roads also cost money. Most schools and roads are paid for by the government.

uncle samWhere does the government find money for schools and roads? Every person who works in our country pays a part of his or her income to the government. This payment is called a tax. Then the people who make up the government have to make decisions about how to spend that money. These decisions eventually are expressed in a written plan that tells how the tax payments, or revenue, will be spent. This plan is called a budget.


  • If I Were President: This activity presents an online game in which participants spend tax revenue.
    Interactive Activity


[NOTE: Some additional background information will be necessary before the students work on the popup budget activity. Have the students look at how the federal budget is currently being allocated for each of the categories present in the popup. You may still keep it as a fraction of $100. Ask the students that if tax revenues were only $95 this year, where would they make cuts and why. This will help the students to better understand how to work with the budgeting of money.]

meetingWith your class, decide what kinds of things we need to pay for in our country. Remember that you are not focusing here on things that people use privately--movie tickets or tires for their cars, for example. These are things people usually pay for themselves. Instead, you are trying to identify things that lots of people will use, as a member of the public--schools and roads, for example. These are things that are usually provided by the government and paid for out of tax revenue. Can you think of other things that the government might include in its budget? [Try to solicit several responses including hospitals, national parks, social services, and the military.]

Now, discuss these questions with your class:


1. Why do we need schools?
2. What would happen if there were no schools?


1. Why do we need hospitals?
2. What would happen if there were no hospitals?


1. Is there a need to build new roads and fix the old ones?
2. What do you think would happen if the roads were in poor repair?

Nature Conservation

1. How do you think the area we live in would look without trees and grass?
2. What would happen if all the water around us was polluted?


1. Why do we need armed forces?
2. What would happen if there were no armed forces?

Now, in the following Flash activity, you will decide how to budget money for the government. Have the students work in pairs or small groups to complete the following activity. The students will be able to print off their pie charts at the end for further discussion.

"If I Were President . . ." Interactive Activity
The online game where you spend tax revenue.


[NOTE: Though the focus of this lesson thus far has been related to both federal and local, the assessment activity is geared towards the budgeting of the local government. Younger students will have a harder time with grasping the concept of federal budget and what they are spending the money on, as opposed to the allocation of local government funds. Students will be able to relate to local issues, such as their schools, potholes in their neighborhood roads, etc. Providing the students with the correct resources for locating the number of schools, hospitals, highways, parks and military bases within the community will help to move the lesson along and possibly keep the class from getting discouraged.]

Explain to the students that they will each be given $1,000 to spend on local community expenses, and that they will be making pie charts to show their spending. Have them find out the following:

  • How many schools, hospitals, highways, parks and military bases are in your community?
  • Are any of these more important to your community than others?
  • Are there other things which your community uses that should be included in your budget?

    (It would be helpful to have both community maps and local phone directories on hand to help students locate community services in the evaluation activity.)

Then have the students decide how much of the $1,000 to spend on each area.

The students should be able to explain why they spent more money for some resources than for others in their community. Make sure to have the students describe their allocations (for example, 'We spent the most on hospitals...'). Once the students have discussed their pie charts, introduce the concept of trade-offs/opportunity cost. Ask the students what would happen if all the money were given to the schools. What/who would suffer? What/who would benefit? Discuss similar situations with the various government funded programs within the community.


moneyBy this point, students should be able to articulate that governments, like families, need to budget money. The government "earns" it's money through taxes and needs to make choices when determining how to spend that money.

In the Flash activity, you helped to make important choices about how to spend our tax revenue. Now think about the following:

  • Why did you spend the money the way you did?
  • Was it easy or hard to plan the budget?
  • What would happen if you only had $100 to spend? What would get less money?