5 Resources to Help Students Understand the Cost of Living

Teaching basic personal economics lessons is one of my favorite activities. Many high school students seem to enjoy the topic because they can relate to the experience of earning and spending money. I enjoy teaching the lessons because they are often an eye-opener for high school students when we get to the topic of cost of living. Here are five good resources for helping students learn about the cost of living.

The Living Wage Calculator is a website developed and maintained by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier at MIT. The purpose of the Living Wage Calculator is to provide a snapshot of what it actually costs to survive in counties and cities in the United States. The Living Wage Calculator shows the differences between minimum wages and minimum living wages for each county and some cities in the U.S. The calculator accounts for eight different household scenarios from single adult to two adults and three children living in the same household. The Living Wage Calculator only accounts for the basic monthly expenses in each scenario. After looking at the Living Wage Calculator’s data for your county, ask your students to try to account for other expenses that a typical family has. After they look at the data for their county ask your students to try to locate help wanted postings that provide a minimum living wage in their county. Then have them determine what type of education and training those jobs require.

Spent is an online game designed to teach players about the challenges of living on minimum wage (or slightly higher) employment. Players begin by selecting a job which will provide the wages they have to survive on for a month. Then throughout the game players are confronted with challenges that they have to handle by making an “either or” choice. After each choice the player’s account balance is adjusted. In addition to the change in the player’s balance sheet, each choice is followed by an explanation of consequence of the choice made.

The Cost of Living Map produced with data from The Council for Community and Economic Research allows you to quickly compare the costs of living in U.S. cities. To use the map simply select two cities from the drop-down menu on the map. After making your selections you will see a graphic and an indication of which city is more expensive. The comparison is based on the costs of housing, healthcare, utilities, groceries, and transportation. My first thought when seeing this map was that I would use it as the jumping-off point for an assignment in which students research the factors that contribute to increases or decreases in the costs of living in the cities that they choose on the map.

Numbeo is a neat resource that could help students see the differences in the costs of living between cities. Numbeo claims to be the world’s largest database of user-contributed data about the costs of living in cities. Some of the sets of data that you can see find in Numbeo include property values, transportation costs, and healthcare costs. Numbeo’s database is user-generated so you will want students to take the information with a grain of salt. That said, Numbeo could be good resource for students to use to compare the costs of living in two or more cities. After comparing the costs of living in two or more cities, ask your students to try to determine the things that account for the differences in costs of living between two cities.

Life on Minimum Wage is a game that I developed years ago to help my student recognize how difficult it is to save money when your only job(s) pay minimum wage without benefits. To win (prize not determined yet) at Life on Minimum Wage the students have to reach five financial goals that they select. To earn money the students have to complete the tasks of their assigned jobs. The students then have to pay required bills before using money for their selected financial goals. As the game progresses students will be issued “surprise” cards which require them to spend money on things like speeding tickets, trips to a health clinic, and increases in rent.

A PDF of the lesson can be downloaded here.


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