Pennies

The Penny Game provides an introduction to the elements and numbers in the federal budget. The activity works well for all ages. 

What is The Penny Game?

  • 15-minute activity
  • Appropriate for elementary and middle schools
  • Group exercise with 4-5 people per group
  • Suitable for any class size

Help your students understand the basics of balancing the federal budget.

 

Preparation

  1. Prepare a bag of 100 pennies* for each team. You will need red tape to cover some of the pennies.
  2. Make copies of Income and Spending Boards using cardstock or colored paper.

*You can use white and red beans instead of pennies.

spending program game board
Government Spending Board
income game board
Government Income Board

Penny Game Overview

In 2017, the Federal Government spent $3,981 billion, collected $3,315 billion, and borrowed $666 billion to cover the deficit.

 

When using the game boards, each penny will represent 1% or approximately $40 billion of 2017 federal spending.

You should have 83 bare pennies to represent the amount of taxes collected by the government. You should cover 17 pennies with red tape to represent the money borrowed and spent by the government (since 17% less money was collected than spent.)

How to Play:

  • Group players into teams of 4 or 5.
  • Give each team a Penny Bag and a Spending Board.
  • Ask teams to distribute all 100 pennies among the 9 spending categories according to where they think the government spent the money.
  • Get the answers below and read them out. Ask each team to move the correct amounts onto the squares so they can visualize the comparisons.
  • Ask teams to distribute only the bare pennies onto the 4 tax squares of the Income Board according to where students think the taxes came from.
  • When the Income Board is completed, give the correct answers as shown below.

Additional Information

  • The income figures are represented as a percentage of outlays. 2017 income was 83% of outlays, which is another way of saying we had an 17% deficit.
  • The categories for the Penny Game track the official "Functions" breakdown in the federal budget. For more on the definitions of the different budget functions and the programs within each function click here.

Need help conducting The Penny Game? Ask us!

For advice, or to invite a Concord Coalition field representative to support your group, contact us at [email protected].

More budget exercises

Government Spending and Income

Answers to the Penny Game
2017 Federal Government Spending

Budget Category

     $Billions     

% of Outlays

Defense
600
15
Education
142
3
Interest
263
7
Foreign Aid
46
1
Social Security
945
24
Income Security
504
13
Health
1130
28
Environment
36
1
Other
315
8
Total
3,981
100%
2017 Federal Government Income

Income Category

     $Billions     

% of Outlays

Individual Income Taxes
1,587
40
Social Insurance Taxes
1,162
29
Corporate Income Taxes
297
7
Other Taxes
269
7
Total Tax Revenue
3,315
83
Deficit
666
17

 

 

 

 


Source: Final Monthly Treasury Statement, September 2017