How Students Can Use Fractions to Manage Allowance

by Treve Brinkman, Director of Professional Learning
February 13th, 2017

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Whether or not your students realize it, they use fractions every day. What’s more, their future jobs will likely require a basic level of fluency with fractions. While many students aren’t thinking ahead to their future careers, they still want to know how math concepts apply to their daily lives. Showing students how fractions work in real life encourages them to engage with classroom fraction talks, and motivates them to do well on their assignments.

You can connect teaching fractions with something most students identify with: receiving money. Whether receiving an allowance, getting cash for birthdays and holidays, or earning extra spending money through babysitting, yard work, or other part-time jobs, students are bound to have some kind of small income. Deciding what to do with that money is a perfect application of fractions in real life.

Spend, save or donate
Many financial advisers tell adults to do three things with every paycheck: spend, save and donate money. One widely-accepted general rule of thumb is that you donate 10 percent, save 10 percent and spend the rest of your income. Offer up this guideline or let students choose their own rule and let them decide how to allocate an amount of disposable income.

For instance, students might choose to save 1/3 of their money to buy something big in the future. They could also donate 1/3 to a charity and spend 1/3 on an item right now. Encourage your students to apply fractions as they plan how to budget their money, and also ask them how they would spend these amounts, so they can ground their understanding of fractional reasoning in real-life, relatable scenarios.


Money and fractions in math equations
You can start a fractions lesson by sharing a problem like this one:

“You can use a variety of strategies to help your students develop an understanding of fractions.”

John got $10 for his birthday. He wants to put 1/2 into his piggy bank, give 1/4 to a local charity and spend the rest on candy. How much money will John put in each category?

You can help your students solve this in several ways. For instance, use number lines and benchmark numbers to illustrate the money problem. Your number line will have 0 on one end and 10 on the other, with 5 in the middle. Students can use those benchmarks to find the 1/2 and 1/4 values of $10.

Helpful resources
As you discuss fractions in relation to spending money, there are a variety of tools and strategies you can share with students. From using Cuisenaire Rods to number lines to fraction dice, you help students visualize and represent how fractions apply to their real lives. Our books Beyond Invert and Multiply and Beyond Pizzas & Pies are full of examples of strategies for teaching fractions. For more free resources, see our post on “Labeling the Number Line” and the “Numbers Between Zero and One“.


Treve Brinkman is devoted to building the capacity of both teachers and students in order to create classrooms where growth mindset, communication, and deep mathematical understanding are central. In the role of the Professional Learning Specialist, Treve supports districts’ professional learning for leaders and teachers through the facilitation of both whole group learning as well as individual coaching sessions


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