Search form

How to Use Economy Reward Systems to Teach Financial Responsibility

“I wish I learned that in school!” Financial responsibility is the topic at which this phrase is commonly aimed. As students graduate, get jobs, and get started on their independent lives, it quickly becomes apparent that the things their parents or guardians did for them require skills to manage. You’d be amazed at how many students don’t know that auto insurance is a requirement and not an option. Money management, paying bills, budgeting, loans, and purchasing, and even negotiating - the list of things they are expected to do but were not necessarily taught goes on and on.

As educators, we may look for ways to include these life skills in our classrooms without sacrificing too much time teaching the curriculum. Some math classes can explore a personal finance unit, while Economics classes may focus on the stock market. Yet, how can we get students to begin to practice using these skills before then? 

An economy reward system allows students the opportunity to practice skills that will benefit them in their later years. Skills like being aware of expectations, earning, spending, and saving will be integral in their adult lives.

What is an Economy Reward System?

An economy reward system is when students earn tokens (tickets, “bucks,” play money, coupon, etc.) for doing something positive. The expected behaviors and standards are often written out for different locations (classroom, cafeteria, hallway, bathroom). Students are recognized by earning a token when they are caught doing what they are supposed to be doing. They are then able to spend tokens on various items or experiences. 

This type of motivation system has been touted as one of the most effective ways to manage student behavior and make positive changes, although not for the reasons you may think. Although economy reward systems identify expected behavioral standards that students must meet to earn tokens, it is genuinely about positive reinforcement. 

Staff shifts their perspective to begin recognizing the positive actions rather than calling out the negative actions. Handing a token to a student is a form of positive reinforcement, but it often comes with some form of praise. Training our brains as educators to focus on the good things and catch students doing the right thing is the most important step to making lasting positive changes.

How Do Economy Reward Systems Work?

Start in your classroom. Identify behaviors you would like to see and which make the classroom a positive and productive place. Have your students help you identify things they would like to see on the list of rewards. Ensure all staff working in your classroom are on the same page and have access to the tokens you will be using. The next part is fun and easy - catch the students being good and reward them with a token. 

Students keep their tokens and have structured opportunities to choose to spend them or save them. Create a list of rewards that students may want to “buy” with their tokens and their cost for each item. You can have a small prize box that you let students pick out of for a price. You may also want to include non-tangible items for students to choose from, such as eating lunch with the teacher.

These non-tangible experiences become especially meaningful to students because they form positive memories and associations with learning and earning. For example, lunch with a preferred staff, a board game with a friend, teacher for a day, the possibilities are endless! Use your students to determine what the rewards will be - they may be more motivated to earn tokens if it is for something they want. Include items that cost more so that students need to save their tokens for some time to have enough to redeem the prize.

School-Wide Implementation

Think bigger and champion a school-wide system of positive behavior intervention supports at your school! Identify a common token and utilize it across all classrooms and grade levels. You can tie incentives into individual classrooms, as described above, and common times/areas and whole school activities to promote a positive school climate and culture. 

Some great school-wide rewards include choosing music to be played over speakers in the cafeteria or choosing an ugly tie for the principal to wear for a day. Many schools implement monthly celebrations where students buy-in for a certain amount of tokens and can participate in seasonal crafts, games, and student choice activities (think staff vs. student volleyball games, pumpkin painting, cornhole tournaments). 

Students who choose not to buy in or have not earned enough tickets to participate may watch the events and work to participate during the next event.

Economy Reward Systems Teaches Financial Responsibility

There are several lessons and benefits of using an economy reward system in your classroom or school. The biggest lesson students can learn is how to be financially responsible. Being financially accountable starts with earning the tokens, keeping them in a safe place, and saving them to spend on a prize, big or small.

Students Learn How to Save

An important lesson the economy reward system teaches is delayed gratification. All too often, teenagers earn paychecks and are quick to spend them. The concept of saving money for what they want rather than buying what they want now takes time to learn and practice to develop. 

The economy reward system encourages saving for a larger prize and better experience. Give students opportunities to choose whether they want to spend their tokens on small immediate prizes or save them for a big prize that may take a few weeks to save up for. 

Final Thoughts

Economy reward systems are positive reinforcement strategies that allow students to be recognized for positive, pro-social behaviors by earning tokens. Students are then able to earn rewards based on a specific number of tokens. 

This reward system mirrors our consumer society in a simple way that we can integrate into all schools and individual classrooms. The process of earning and spending allows students to practice making smart choices, delaying gratification, and working for things they want. These skills will serve them well as they graduate from our schools and transition into independent living.

Written by Jacqueline Underwood
Education World Contributor
Copyright© 2021 Education World