Everything You Need to Implement a Classroom Economy

Not Your Typical Classroom Economy

I heard an NPR interview with Rafe Esquith where he was sharing his strategies for teaching fifth-grade students about financial responsibility. I immediately bought his book, “Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire.” Like all things Esquith does, his classroom economy was over the top. Students apply for jobs, earn money, pay rent for their desks. They can even save money to buy not only their own desk, but they can buy the desks of their classmates and collect rent. While I loved the idea, sustaining a classroom economy on this scale was intimidating.


Thirteen years later PayGrade.io provides an online resource to make running a classroom economy so much easier. With PayGrade, paychecks and bills are automated. Students manage their money with online checking, savings, and credit card accounts. Students pay each other with wire transfers or with digital checks.

Classroom Economy Paygrade

Create a Classroom Community

PayGrade’s “classroom management” lesson plans are a great way to create a classroom community where students have to synergize to make the community successful. They apply for jobs, earn money, pay bills (desk rent, wifi, electricity, water, trash, etc.), and save or spend what’s leftover. If a classroom economy isn’t for you, they also provide plans for using PayGrade as a smaller financial literacy simulation or as part of a personal finance course.

Classroom Economy Checking Account

Setting Up Your Classroom Economy

Everything in PayGrade is customizable (jobs, salaries, pay frequency, bills, etc.). Teachers can manually add students to their classrooms, upload a CSV, or let students enroll themselves with a sign-up code. Student email addresses are not required to join a class.

Classroom Jobs


Students will create a resume and apply for jobs. While teachers can customize the jobs, Paygrade’s default jobs and job responsibilities are a great starting point. Their list consists of 23 different jobs ranging from Absentee Helper ($100/week) to Technology Assistant ($350/week). Teachers select the frequency for automatically adding pay to student’s accounts.

Bills and Assets

Bills are automatically deducted from students’ accounts monthly. Default bills range from rent ($800/month) to internet ($50/month). Teachers can create assets that students can purchase (i.e. students can purchase a desk for $5,000). Teachers can also add monthly adjustment (appreciation/depreciation) values to assets. Students can sell their assets at any time.

Classroom Economy Bills

Action Items – Bonuses and Infractions

Teachers can create daily bonuses that students can earn in addition to their paycheck to reinforce positive behaviors. Similarly, teachers may choose to create infractions to apply fines.

QR Cash

QR Code Money

One of the other features of PayGrade that stands out is the ability to print QR Cash. Students deposit the QR Cash by scanning it with a QR Reader. The cash immediately locks after deposit so that it can only be deposited once (until the teacher “refills” it).

What Ideas do you have for using PayGrade in Your Classroom?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter.

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Nick LaFave

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