Dollars & Sense Blog

There’s something for everyone. News, advice, scholarship information, curriculum – you’ll find it all here. Don’t forget to check back for the latest in personal finance content.

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H&R Block Dollars & Sense Rewards Teachers Who Champion Personal Finance

As part of our ongoing commitment to teachers, H&R Block Dollars & Sense has partnered with WeAreTeachers to create a personal finance lesson plan contest. Any teacher who participates by submitting or downloading a lesson plan will receive a $15 discount on their 2013 tax preparation at a local H&R Block!

Here’s how the contest works: teachers submit their best lesson plans on personal finance online. Ten finalists will be selected by a panel of teachers and Dollars & Sense staffers. Teachers with the top three lesson plans will divvy up $5,000 in classroom grants to fund ongoing personal finance education.

Any teacher who wants to download one of these lesson plans can do so by visiting our contest page on or our Pinterest board.

For more information or to submit a lesson plan, click here.


Introducing Scott Gamm: Family Finance Advisor

We’ve got news! The H&R Block Dollars & Sense team is pleased to announce our new Family Finance Advisor: Mr. Scott Gamm.

Scott is an exceptionally accomplished college senior whose book, MORE MONEY, PLEASE: The Financial Secrets You Never Learned in School, has been helping young people grasp the basics of personal finance since April of this year. “This book puts the most important concepts into simple steps and understandable terms,” says Scott. “It’s written for young people, but has insights and advice for anyone who is looking to improve their money smarts.”

Color us impressed — so impressed, we asked him to work with us.

Scott has appeared on NBC’s “Today,” MSNBC, CNN, “Inside Edition” and all over the internet as a specialist in investing and personal finance. Whether you’re a teacher, a parent, or just a concerned citizen, stay tuned to the H&R Block Dollars & Sense Facebook page for Scott’s articles on educating teens about budgeting, FICO scores, saving and more.

Welcome, Scott! We look forward to picking your brain.

How to Teach Your Teen Personal Finance

Parents, you know that personal finance isn’t the most enthralling topic for teens, but it is an essential one. So, how do you broach the subject without boring your teen to death? We’ll show you how in two easy steps:

Step 1: Teach them without them knowing it
Get them playing Gen i Revolution, a free online game that has been played by more than 90,000 teens. With Gen i Revolution, your teen can compete against their friends in a series of 15 missions to learn concepts like budgeting, how credit works and making important career choices.

If your teen’s an expert gamer and beats Gen i Revolution quickly, tell them to check out “Beyond the Mission” or “Murktide Invasion.” Beyond the Mission is a series of missions your teen must complete on their way to mastering critical personal finance topics. Each mission, should they choose to accept it, involves a storyline tied to personal finance and includes a series of decisions points. Your teen will learn important financial concepts like purchasing insurance and they won’t even know they’re doing it!

For big Risk fans, Murktide Invasion is a turn-based strategy game in which students earn “contacts” by correctly answering financial questions. Students then use these contacts to gain control over the game map and take over the country. It’s a competitive game that will keep your teen playing and learning.

Step 2: Talk about it
Now that your teen is playing the game, they’re beginning to understand the concepts behind personal finance. Reinforce that understanding by having open discussions at home. Budget the family income with them, walk them through your credit card statement or talk to them about the different kinds of loans they can get. Letting your teen experience what they’re learning in real life will help to reinforce the lessons.

How else do you talk to your teens about personal finance?


New Tools for Teachers

Here’s an interesting fact: only four U.S. states require students to complete at least a one-semester course in personal finance to graduate high school. There are, however, plenty of teachers out there who are going above and beyond the call of duty to teach their students about personal finance.

Teachers, some of you may be familiar with Gen i Revolution, the free online role-playing game that has helped more than 90,000 students learn about money matters. H&R Block Dollars & Sense and the Council for Economic Education (CEE) have created two new minigames to complement the ever-popular Gen I Revolution.

Let us introduce “Beyond the Mission” and “Murktide Invasion.”

Beyond the Mission” is a series of missions student must complete on their way to mastering critical personal finance topics. Each mission involves a storyline tied to personal finance and a series of decision points. Students will learn important financial concepts like purchasing insurance and making long-term investments in real-world situations set up like a comic book adventure.

Murktide Invasion is a turn-based strategy game in which students earn contacts by correctly answering financial questions. Students then use these contacts to gain control over the game map. It’s a competitive game that will keep your students playing and learning.

Teachers, we can hear you asking, “How can I integrate these games into my classroom?” Well, it’s easy. If you’re interested in using Gen i Revolution, Beyond the Mission or Murktide Invasion, you can purchase a companion curriculum created by the CEE for $24.95. “Learning, Earning and Investing for a New Generation” helps students master the basics of investing, with a focus on long-term investment strategies as part of a smart overall approach to financial planning. There are 21 lessons that cover basics such as the language of financial markets, gathering information on investments, and the nature of financial institutions within the U.S. economy. The program even comes with free handouts and PowerPoint presentations, which make it easier for teachers to teach!

If you’re interested and want more information, or you want to start teaching this right away, check

Beat the Bookstore Blues

Tuition is expensive enough, so don’t tack on the unnecessary expense of new textbooks. There are plenty of ways to get the books teens need for class without busting your budget.

Rent textbooks
A lot of school bookstores provide the option to rent textbooks. It can cost almost 50 percent less than buying a book full price, provided that the student remembers to give it back at the end of the semester. If they don’t return it, most bookstores will charge the full price.

Buy used books
School forums: tell teens to check around on Facebook to see if their school has a “Free or For Sale” forum, or a “Textbook Exchange” page. Not only can they find inexpensive books for sale, but they might even find notes or tips for the class in the margins.

Websites like AmazonBarnes & NobleAlibris,, Coursesmart, or have a large collection of used textbooks for steeply discounted prices. Sometimes, there are even new versions of the book for less.

Sell books back
Some school bookstores and sites like Amazon, Alibris, and will buy textbooks back. This can help offset the actual price, and savvy teens may even be able to make a little profit.

Check out the library
Little known fact: many school libraries carry the textbooks students need, so swoop in early (quantities tend to be limited). This is especially helpful for anyone taking a literature course. Instead of buying all 10 novels they might need, teens can just get them from the library.

Look into e-books
If your teen has a Kindle, iPad or other electronic reader, e-books are worth looking into. E-books tend to be less expensive than printed books. As an added bonus, they’re a lot lighter too!

Have more ideas? Let us know other ways teens can save on textbooks in the comments.

College Preparations

Getting even the most basic things ready for your college-bound teen can be hard on your bank account. Here are some ways that you and your teen can cut the budget and make the whole experience easier:

Your teen will likely need an ATM card to get money for groceries and dining. One mistake many families make is to keep the account at their home bank when the teen is going to be many states away. The catch is the non-local ATM fees. If your teen doesn’t use a local bank and uses the wrong ATM, it could be an additional fee of up to $6 and more per withdrawal! Look into local credit unions and see if they have shared branches at your teen’s college of choice so you can avoid those pesky fees.

Transportation can also be difficult, money-wise, for college-goers. Gas, insurance and car repairs are both time-consuming and expensive. Look for ways your teen might be able to go car-free. If your teen likes bike riding, suggest bringing a bike to school. It will make getting around campus easier (and often faster) and provide some exercise at the same time. If your teen isn’t into biking, look into local transportation. A bus pass can come in extra-handy for getting to work or the grocery store.

Looking Trendy
Your teen can look great without breaking the bank. Before he or she leaves for school, visit a local thrift store together, or suggest taking along a fashion-savvy friend, to learn the ropes. Talk about where to look for stains, how to check seams, and have a discussion about designers and what certain items might be worth. Then, when school starts, your teen will be able to hunt down clothes without having to skip lunch to cover the cost.

Cheap Travel

Fall is just around the corner, so why not squeeze in one last quick trip before everyone starts to get busy? Here are some quick money saving suggestions for a low-budget vacation.

1. Go Camping. Camping can be a ton of fun and relatively inexpensive! National park fees are around $15 and you come stocked with your own supplies and accommodations, so there are very few, if any, additional costs outside of what you spent at the grocery store. And if you don’t like camping in the traditional sense of the word, many parks provide cabins that you can rent.

2. Try a stay-cation. The word “travel” may have exotic implications, but there can be lots of fun stuff for the family to do, right in your back yard! Check out the national parks, monuments or tourist attractions in your area.

3. Buy last minute. Cruises, airplane tickets and hotels can be incredibly expensive in advance. But if you book last minute, you can often find cheap deals on fun excursions. A quick look at Expedia show last-minute openings on from $64/night to $155/night.

4. Road Trip. Road trips can be an inexpensive way to see a lot interesting sites. Plan ahead and use apps like GasBuddy and Priceline to negotiate cheap hotels and find the least expensive gas prices nearest you.

What are some other fun ways to have a vacation on a budget?

Cheap Summer Parties

Summer may be coming to an end, but there’s still time to fit in some last minute barbecues and summer bashes, even when you’re on a budget. Here are a few tips and tricks to have a ball without bursting your budget.

  1. Plan with friends. Planning with friends can split tasks ad financial responsibilities. The more friends you plan with, the more ways you can split the final cost at the end.
  2. Find a color and stick with it. It’s easier to find one common color and stick with it when planning a color. With one color you can buy items in bulk, which tend to be a lot less expensive.
  3. Do it Yourself. Cooking and decorating yourself can be a lot less inexpensive than hiring a caterer or outside help. Plus, all the compliments your receive on how beautiful everything is won’t hurt either!
  4. Simplify. If you serve a meal, it doesn’t need to be super fancy. Grilled cheese with some potato chips, pizzas, or even a fancier salad can do the trick.
  5. Timing. If you time your party right, you may not have to serve entire meals. Parties in the mid afternoon may only require a few appetizers and beverages and parties later at night may only need desserts and drinks.

What are some other tips for an inexpensive summer blowout?

Top 5 Ways for Teens to Find a Job

Jobs for teens are hard to come by these days. Here are a few ways they can get the job search going:

1. functions like a typical job-finding website, except for the fact that it has a “Teen” section. Teens can look there to find a variety of jobs in their area that are appropriate for them.

2. Use Your Connections
Have your teen reach out to adults he or she knows. Maybe the family down the street needs a babysitter on Saturday nights. Ask around and see if any adults you know have part-time positions available, and encourage your teen to apply. Using your connections can be an easy way for your teen to get a foot in that coveted first door.

Rock Your Block is a socially driven job-finding company that was started by a University of Minnesota graduate student. It has a database of odd jobs, internships and part-time jobs. Teens can find jobs by logging in through Facebook and searching their local area.

4. Become Self-Employed
If your teen has a special talent or passion, suggest capitalizing on it! A teen who is good at Spanish or math can offer services as a Spanish tutor to younger students.

Teens4Hire is one of the top career and recruitment websites for teens in the United States. It has a huge database of jobs for teens and specialized categories like health services jobs, banking jobs, law and security jobs and jobs in skilled trades. In addition to helping teens find a way into an industry that interests them, it also has a vast amount of other resources, like resume building and teen employment law education.