Common Sense Review
Updated November 2012

Budget Hero

This product is no longer available.
Great jumping-off point for lessons on U.S. government and politics
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Common Sense Rating 4
  • Buildings expand or shrink when spending for various policy areas is either increased or decreased.
  • Kids can click on any of the tax cards to read the pros and cons of keeping or ditching the policy.
  • A separate site for teachers provides a few activity and lesson plan ideas.
  • Teachers can also use information about the research that the game is based on to teach students about data gathering, accuracy, and use.
  • Students choose badges for three issues they feel are important, which helps personalize the allocation decisions they make during the game.
Kids get a non-partisan view of how spending-related decisions involving issues that interest them will alter the budget.
Some information may be too complex for young children; the game is engaging, but users may not play it multiple times.
Bottom Line
Budget Hero is a fun educational tool that can help teens learn about public policy, resource spending, and balancing the federal budget.
Erin Brereton
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

Players get a personalized experience because the game lets them choose to expand or cut funding and taxes that relate to issues they care about. They’ll see how their decisions immediately affect the budget.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

Teens visually see the impact reducing or expanding policies will have on the federal budget for a decade. They can read about each program’s background and learn about public policy, government, and decision-making.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

Kids can also access a list of more than 30 sources for additional budget, policy, and government information. Registered users can also see how their potential budget compares to other users' plans.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

The simulation game provides a personalized experience. Students expand or trim tax breaks and spending cuts that will affect issues they feel are important. They’ll experience the concerns, frustrations, and occasional triumphs involved in trying to balance the federal budget firsthand.

Teachers can use the simulation game as a jumping-off point to talk about U.S. politics and the cause-and-effect relationship between tax and funding decisions and the national debt level. Information about how the game uses the Congressional Budget Office budget model, and forecast data can also be used to discuss probability and other similar concepts. 

Additional information may be needed to explain how the major political parties are structured and who makes what decisions. But the game should help kids better understand how parties make decisions and support certain issues based on their beliefs and goals, and the effect those choices can have on the federal budget.

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What's It Like?

Editor's Note: The 2012 edition of the Budget Hero game has been retired. However, users are encouraged to visit the site to leave feedback for possible future versions of the game.

Budget Hero is a browser-based game that illustrates how U.S. federal budget money is spent. Kids select three causes that interest them from options like national security, health and wellness, and energy independence. Players then view the effect their spending increases and decreases will have on the U.S. budget deficit, surplus, and debt level over the next decade. Buildings grow and decrease in line with monetary decisions; gauges also show where the level of debt and other considerations stand.

Budget Hero also provides a considerable amount of information about spending and tax policies and programs. Users can click on each potential expense to read about the pros and cons involved in either boosting or reducing the program, and can also raise or lower taxes to try to balance the budget.

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Is It Good For Learning?

Before playing, students can watch a brief intro that explains how the federal budget and game generally work. However, the monetary and political concepts involved may be a little too complex for younger kids who haven’t learned much in school yet about the government. High schoolers, though, should be able to grasp the theories. The game can help them learn to balance their personal opinions and priorities with the factual information that’s offered to judge the risks and rewards involved in each decision. 

Budget Hero often involves difficult choices. Seeing the immediate effect certain cuts or increases will have on the budget’s bottom line can help reinforce some important spending concepts, including how to balance (and stick to) a household budget and how to identify and prioritize needs over emotional arguments.

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