I was searching for a way to help my students understand how hard life can be in Mexico when I had a pretty fun idea. Depending on the size of my class, students work in pairs (or groups of three or four). Each group of students is considered a family unit and receives one index card telling them what they earn and the job(s) they do. Also included are the monthly expenses. Sometimes daily expenses are included, especially if someone in the family unit works in the city. Bus fare would be a daily expense to get to work. Here are some examples of the cards I have made.
Card 1: You are a single parent with two children. Your mother lives with you. You work in the city as a housekeeper and earn 200 pesos a day. You work four days a week. You have to pay the following bills: electricity 150 pesos/month, cable 100 pesos/month, bottled water 16 pesos each, bank payment 100 pesos/month, bus fare 24 pesos daily.
Card 2: You and your wife have four children. All attend school. You drive a tricitaxi in the village and earn 100 pesos a day. You can earn 200 pesos on Sunday if you decide to work seven days a week instead of six. Your wife does laundry and charges 25 pesos per dozen. Your bills include: electricity 200 pesos/month, cable 100 pesos/month, bottled water 16 pesos each, furniture payment 300 pesos/month.
Card 3: You are a single parent with one child in school. You work as a teacher in the city and earn 3000 pesos every two weeks. Your bills include electricity 250 pesos/month, cable 100 pesos/month, bus fare 24 pesos daily, bottled water 16 pesos each.
There are more cards, but you get the general idea. I try to mix decent jobs in with some unskilled labor so students get a picture of how I lived and how others there still live.
The bottled water refers to a large bottle like you see in many offices. I include it because the “agua potable” isn’t so good for drinking. My neighbor gave her kids medicine to kill internal parasites that come from drinking water that is not bottled. You should hear the students when I explain that to them! Bus fare applies to those working in the city. Sometimes people spend more on bus fare if the job is a long way from downtown. The 24 pesos cover a round-trip ticket from a village to the downtown area in the city.
Once the cards are distributed to the groups, I then issue the challenge. Students have to budget their pesos to feed the family they have been given as well as pay all the bills. They must make a menu for a month and account for every peso spent or saved. I, of course, post a list of the latest prices for food and other household necessities to assist them while they plan. The students usually are able to figure out a reasonable budget and plan for food. At this point, they are thinking how easy it was to do.
That’s when I have each group draw an “emergency card.” (I always snicker when these are chosen. I’m about to blow their budget to pieces!) One example of an emergency card: You agreed to be padrinos for a quince party. You must pay 2000 pesos for the cake. Another emergency might be: Your home needs repairs immediately. Pay 1500 pesos for supplies and labor.
Students then have to make their earnings stretch to cover these unexpected expenses. They get to decide what they can do without or come up with a plan to earn some extra pesos.