Budgeting in Poverty with Discussion Questions

This activity was designed to drive home the stress and limited options caused by poverty. The accompanying training covered poverty and it’s links to child abuse in some detail, but it was so far outside of the experiences of many of the learners that we wanted to reinforce the lesson in a more immediate way. To tie the lesson more specifically to the objective, it is done with the sample child abuse case family used throughout the rest of the training.

This activity works in part because it engages the learners in a somewhat familiar task – budgeting – with completely new parameters (the very low amount of money to work with). It is done in small groups to encourage conversation, and to allow for comparison of final budgets during the big group discussion at the end. The discussion questions are designed to bring home pain points and make the learners defend choices they made with no good options.

ACtivity:  Budgeting in Poverty

You are Katie Harmon from our case study. You live with your boyfriend and your three kids (16, 11, and 2). Combined, you receive $15,000 after taxes. That is $1250 a month. Using the following average prices (find average prices for your city or region online and give a copy to each group), make a budget that covers all the safety basics  and post your “dollars” on the labelled sheets around the room. When you are done, discuss the following questions in your small group. Be prepared to share your answers with the other groups:


Housing, Debt Payments, Food, Transportation, Child Care and School Expenses, Health, Personal Care (clothing, toiletries, haircuts, etc..), Entertainment, Miscellaneous

Discussion Questions

  1. Were you able to cover all the expenses that you needed to cover? If not, how much debt are you accumulating each month?


  1. What did you have to cut that you would personally consider essential?


  1. Do you have any money set aside for date nights, toys, lessons, or other fun things? If not, how do you think it impacts your mental health to never have any of these things?


  1. You probably had to pick less desirable choices for things like neighborhoods and childcare. How does that impact safety and development?


5. What struck you the most about this exercise?