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SPENT: Playing the Minimum Wage Game

If you’re trying to help your child understand just how quickly one month’s pay can disappear, an online game called SPENT might be a good tool for you to know about. Created by McKinney and the Urban Ministries of Durham, SPENT challenges players to make ends meet for one month earning minimum wage.

The game begins by presenting you, the player, with a believable scenario: You’ve become one of the 14 million Americans who are unemployed, and you’re running out of money fast. You need a job, and only three are available to you. In any one of those three jobs, you’ll earn a wage that’s roughly equal to minimum wage.

Once you’ve chose a job, your bank account shows one full month of wages. SPENT presents you with either/or choices that will affect your bank balance. Examples include enrolling in employer-provided health insurance, choosing a place to live where rent is affordable but your commute isn’t too expensive, and deciding whether to send your child to a classmate’s birthday party (a gift will cost $10 – can you send your child to the party without one?).

Your bank balance reflects your choices, and the game provides qualitative feedback on the choices you make. For example, if you choose a warehouse job that involves heavy lifting but pays well, the game will point out to you that the pay is good but the job will take its toll on your health.

SPENT has the potential to be a powerful tool for parents of teenagers who don’t understand why they should have a plan for life and career after high school graduation. It could also be helpful for the parents among the 1.7 million Missourians who are earning an hourly wage: SPENT might be away to show your kids just how easily a month’s paycheck is spent.

Note: Of the estimated 6 million people living in Missouri, approximately 3.7 million of them are between the ages of 18 and 65 (source). Nearly half of those working-aged residents earned an hourly wage, and approximately half of them earned less than the minimum wage (source).

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