Budget Hero Game: Want To Be President of the USA?

budget-hero1Sept. 18, 2012 Tomorrow Sept. 19, 2012, two students from the Maryland School of Public Policy join WilsonCenter.org on Capitol Hill to launch Budget Hero new “Election Edition” engaging a group of Congressional lawmakers in a bipartisan debrief! Woohoo! Let’s hope we all learn some financial literacy skill sets!

Feb. 24, 2009 Freakonomics fans probably had a field day watching the Presidential address to Congress tonight, and econ 101 educators are no doubt scrambling for ‘teaching moments’ to give kids a crack at balancing their future without a deficit.

Sooooo, American Public Media has just the right game, Budget Hero. You’re scored on how your “tax and spend” strategy meets your priorities, and how long it takes for your budget to go bust, using budget models from the Congressional Budget Office.

Much like President Obama’s speech tonight, the game starts by asking you to outline three priorities. (e.g. education, healthcare reform, and energy independence) and takes you through an array of balance the budget scenarios (albeit imperfect ones, as you can see in this review by another game author Emily Short).

She argues that by excluding from the simulation all ramifications other than budget results, the game does a disservice to the complexity of some of these arguments…But I’d say it all depends on what age this game is intended for.

To me, Budget Hero is more of an interactive ‘edutainment’ game than an actual policy prototype or ‘what if’ scenario planner…

Teens want playability and streamlining to get the core concept rather than multitudes of zigs and zags I’d think. (unless you’re on a collegiate level)


For the age group of 8-12 year old tweens I’ve been working with lately, it’s a bit too complex …Still, the concept puts forth a pragmatic “if this, then that” spin that can be simplified (or downsized!) to apply to kids’ real life spending sprees.

Whether kids have mallrat inclinations, chore chart and job jar aspirations for earned income, allowances, lemonade stands or stop-n-swap clothing consignments, this game can lay the foundation for how kids can ‘get it right’ the first time and understand the concept of financial literacy more than most adults EVER did in generations gone by.

How many balanced a check book during high school?

.minyanland..Much less knew how to do online banking transactions, electronic prepaids, use debit and credit cards or learn about ‘bear and bull’ market games in kids’ virtual worlds like Minyanland.

Sheesh. I had…um… Monopoly, I guess.

And lessons from my big bro, Mark the Shark,  who could silver-tongue me out of Boardwalk or Park Place using puppy dog eyes, and logical, ‘what are the odds of landing on it’ strategies…Sigh.

Let’s just say, he’s relaxing in a hammock in Sayulita right now using those land baron skill sets, and I’m pounding on a keyboard for a fledgling nonprofit for FREE…so um…yes, econ skills pay off.

bh2When I was young, Mark used to say, “work smarter not harder” when he’d trounce me in the board game called ‘Stock Market’ too…but he’s always been a big risk taker, so I wonder how HE’D do in Budget Hero (FAQ here).

He’s an environmentalist and idealist, with a pragmatic eye for investing using other people’s capital funds, so in some ways there’s a governmental element there, but he’s certainly no Captain of Industry. That said, he always has that ‘share the wealth’ sort of team “funds=funz” concept going on, with a golden horseshoe tucked up his tail to boot…so Budget Hero (data here) would be a good ‘test’ for his application of ‘real life’ skill sets and detail orientation.

Hear that big bro? I challenge you to a duel! 😉

freakonomicsOne peek at the NYTimes’ Freakonomics blog commentary about Budget Hero and you’ll get the gist of how fun the game can be as you think through the complexities and challenges of policy that legislators have to deal with in battle on the Congressional floor daily. (e.g. bipartisan stalling, ear-marking and pork barrel spending, whacking sacred cow pet projects and powerful special interests, etc. No thank ya.)

One player ‘BT’ landed this comment, “On my first attempt, I managed to:

– Cut the budget deficit to $1.7T by 2018
– Delay the budget bust to year 2070+
– Reduce the federal budget (size of government) government to 18.6% of GDP…But all you slackers counting on social security and Medicare benefits at a tender age of 65 would be disappointed in my plans.”

Another one, Jonathan, is clearly a gamer, artfully replying,

“I balanced the budget and had enough left over to fund a mission to Mars. How? The same way you beat any game: I entered the cheat codes! That’s what we need to fix our nation’s problems . . . cheat codes!”

lifeGive Budget Hero a spin, as a 21st century electronic update ofthe credit crisis and The Game of Life.

I agree with the TopTenz link above, I secretly hated that game as I always found it to be sexist tripe with a capitalist ‘winner take all’ attitude of polarity that veered to the extremes. (I tend to be a nuanced, middle-ground sort, and as this review by Michael Streich recaps, I guess I wasn’t so ‘off’ in my thinking)

Budget Hero, is quite useful to dole out a good shoulder shake to see how our personal budgeting values and priorities often slam up against walls in the political arena. It’s wise to put yourself in budgetary shoes firsthand, as it brings more balance to what BOTH parties are up against.

In fact, I’d like to get the full tilt entrepreneurs involved that I met at Daniel Brusilovsky’s Teens in Tech conference or the equally zealous eco-business branding experts at Teens Turning Green…and have THEM give them a hand in D.C.

After all, some of these high school teens know more NOW than I did when I graduated from COLLEGE.

How many 16-year olds talk about ‘seed money’ and ‘first round VC funding’ or ‘Series A potential partners’ —e-freakin’ gad! Maybe it’s living here in Silicon Valley, but it truly amazes…

address-to-congress1Meanwhile, did anyone see President Obama’s address to Congress tonight?

I decided to forego the CNN/Facebook route this time and watch it the old-fashioned way via traditional TV coverage.

In keeping with my earlier post on  ‘new ways of watching media’ I must say, I feel I’m veering toward She-Geekery.

I had the distinct inclination to want to ‘fast-forward’ every time the President was interrupted by applause.

It dawned on me that even though I was watching it LIVE, my head was working on internet replay and Tivo time…Jumping forward (post-applause) and backward (what was that site he just mentioned to track spending?) was a bit scary.

And the sporadic snipe across the bottom offering to ‘follow Terry Moran on Twitter’ for ABC.com, probably made folks like my parents look at each other with ‘wth?’ expressions, Twit? What?

Yep, old media, new media, and all kinds in between is indeed altering our life landscape…

Meanwhile, whether President Obama will become a ‘Budget Hero’ or not remains to be seen. Fingers crossed for us all…

More Budget Hero Game Info

A look behind the numbers that drive Budget Hero

How does Budget Hero model the federal budget?
How does Budget Hero forecast government revenue?
How does Budget Hero forecast government expenses?
How did you select the policy cards?
Where did you get the information for the cards?
How does the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) calculate the cost of recession bailouts and loans?
Why do you show the 10-year financial impact of each card?
Why does Budget Hero allow me to play in a year between 2009 and 2028?
How does Budget Hero calculate when my budget will go bust?
How do you handle calculations for the Surplus/Deficit meter?
How do you handle calculations for the Debt meter?
Why doesn’t Budget Hero measure the solvency of Medicare and Social Security?
Why did you include a meter for Size of Government, and how is it calculated?
How did you choose Badges and the cards behind them?
Where can I go to learn or do more?
How can I contact you with ideas, suggestions, comments and complaints?


example: How does Budget Hero model the federal budget?

“The game relies primarily on the budget model and forecasts in the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) “Long Term Fiscal Outlook.” We grouped together the CBO budget categories into fewer building categories to simplify the game.

The CBO provides specific budget forecasts for the next ten years and then makes assumptions about growth after the ten-year period, based on economic and inflation forecasts. American Public Media journalists altered the baseline CBO budget in a couple of cases to ensure the game reflects the current political debate. For example, the game assumes that President Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts continue beyond 2010 even though they are set to expire. The reason is that the current political debate assumes the cuts will continue and frames the issue as whether to end or partially roll them back. The game gives players the choice to end or roll back the cuts, along with many other tax and fee options.

If you play no cards, Budget Hero shows how today’s government commitments and plans will affect the budget in the future. As players select policy cards, the baseline budget is adjusted to reflect year-by-year increases or decreases in spending. Some cards, like withdrawing troops from Iraq may increase spending in the next few years before they lead to savings in later years. Model of the budget (pdf)”

Related Kids’ Financial Literacy Posts on Shaping Youth

Holy Budget Balance Batman! Gotham Gazette Game

Crisis of Credit Visualized: A Kid Vid Teaching Tool


Money Mgmt, Allowances, Digital Nagging (Part TWO/PAYjr)

Shaping Youth Interviews PAYjr CEO David Jones, Part ONE: Visa Buxx

Shaping Youth: A Humorous Approach to Student Debt: Credit Cartoons

Shaping Youth: Kids Take Lessons From Financial Debt Binge


Shaping Youth: Virtual Chore Chart Boosts Kids Financially Savvy

Shaping Youth: A Vision of Students Today– Digital Ethnography


Shaping Youth: Web 2.0 Fun Forward, The Machine Is Us/ing Us!

Interactive Games/Virtual Worlds/Financial Activities for Kids

Budget Hero: American Public Media (story to come tmrw on S.Y.)

Default Movie.com: Student Debt Documentary (interview in March)

Minyanland: Bulls/Bears and virtual critters teach money tips (w/NCEE)

iThryv: Newly launched online banking site: Ages 5-24

My Reward Board ages 5-12; interactive customizable chore & finance tracking tool

JumpStart.org: National Financial Coalition; Reality Check for Kids

Global Stock Market: Free, realistic game simulation

Moneyopolis: Online game; probono effort by Ernst & Young for middle schoolers

LifeSmarts.org: National Consumers League/high schoolers

Independent Means website & products by Joline Godfrey, including Raising Financially Fit Kids, No More Frogs to Kiss: 9 Ways to Give Economic Power to Girls etc.

Financial Smarts for Students: The JumpStart Coalition

New Moon Money: Book written by girls for girls, from New Moon Publishing

Save for America: School savings curriculum w/online integration

Moon Jar: Award-winning financial literacy toolkit, book, products

Hot Company: “The money game with attitude”

Prosperity4Kids: Financial training products, programs & tools with resource links

Kids.Gov: Official Kids Portal for the U.S. Government on all things ‘money’

Sense & Dollars Online game; middle/high schoolers

Wall Street Wizards.org Urban youth programs, from summer camps to school year financial literacy


Kiplinger’s Money Smart Kids (article compilation)

Financial Literacy for Kids: Money Lessons Should Start Young (Parenthood)

Girls Inc: Economic Literacy (for adults too!)

Creative Wealth International (formerly The Money Camp)



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