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Free to Spend Review by Kathy GelzerSharon L. Nash
Free to Spend
PO Box 915
Kalispell, MT 59903
Free to Spend is an educational game about personal finance. It consists of a plastic snap-shut folder (which serves as a game board and container for all the game elements), a zipper pouch (which holds 100 clear flat marbles or "Choice Gems," representing a person's income), a mechanical pencil, a calculator, and a little mission manual and mission log.
Sharon L. Nash created this tool to teach people how to gain financial freedom in an appealing way and to combat the negativity associated with money management. She has used Free to Spend effectively herself and with family and friends.
The open case shows the playing field. The thirteen categories for spending are: Generosity, My Future, Shelter, Food, The Look, Work Zone, Living Well (health), Transportation, Plan "B", Upgrades, Knowledge, Fun Stuff, and Extras. Each category has a description giving examples of expenses falling under that category. The Look not only includes clothing and hair cuts but diapers and laundry. These latter two items might better fit into a groceries/household category. The upgrades category includes not only the "next big purchase" and school loans but credit card debt and personal borrowing. I don't follow the reasoning here. Fun Stuff and Extras have lots of overlap. Perhaps one of these categories would be adequate.
The mission manual has four levels of play to show consumers of all ages how to allocate their funds. Sharon says, "It takes approximately 45 minutes to learn, apply, and see results." Basically, the game involves placing the 100 Choice Gems on the playing board and moving them around per instructions. However, the clear gems are bigger than the circle spots on the board, causing some crowding at times. The game does do an excellent job of demonstrating the reality of limited resources amid a multitude of constantly changing situations.
Some of the instructions are difficult to understand or perform. The first step is to dump out your spending marbles (or Choice Gems) onto the Neutral Zone in the middle of the learning board. This zone is not labeled, nor is there enough room for the 100 gemstones without covering up a good portion of the playing field. In the illustrated example of the playing field, the mission manual categories have been rearranged so that they do not correspond to the board. This is confusing.
Level 1 involves a secret agent theme; the mission is to "capture and tame runaway resources." This is an attempt to add fun for younger players, but I question the practicality of it in a learning tool dealing with real life.
I think Free To Spend has great potential as a budgeting tool, once all the kinks are worked out. There is definitely a need for this type of learning material in our world today.