Day 11 (PF)



BUDGET CHALLENGE–Vendor Selections



Pit Stop Summary: A 401(k) plan allows an employee to contribute a portion of their gross wages into an investment account to save for retirement. Employers often match this contribution (up to a limit and sometimes with vesting requirements) to encourage employees to save. You can always contribute more than your employer match. Taxes on the contributions and the investment earnings are deferred until the money is withdrawn during retirement. In Budget Challenge, students should maximize their 401(k) contributions while maintaining enough liquid cash to pay for current expenses and for potential unexpected events.

Terminology Tune-Up:

  1. 401(k): Company sponsored retirement plan.
  2. Tax Deferred Growth: Taxes are not paid on contributions or earnings until withdrawn.
  3. Employee Contribution: Money deducted from gross pay and deposited into the 401(k) account.
  4. Employer Match: Amount of money the employer contributes to employee’s 401(k) account.
  5. Vesting: Time period an employee must work for the company before being eligible to keep the employer match money.

NAVIGATION TIP #1: Students select their 401(k) plan and contribution as a percentage of their salary during “vendor selections.” The plan chosen determines the employer match, which is locked in for the duration of the simulation. During vendor selections, students can change their 401(k) percentage and plan choices on the Student Home>Vendor Selections>Job tab. After the simulation begins, the only change students can make to their 401(k) is their contribution percentage at Student Home>401(k).

NAVIGATION TIP #2: It is important for students to understand they cannot withdraw money from their 401(k). The goal is to budget appropriately to keep enough money in their net pay to satisfy bills and even a bit more in case of any unexpected events. Students can use the Paycheck Calculator on the Job tab to view the Net Pay schedule as it relates to their 401(k) contribution percentage selected. The system will highlight the row in the table that reflects the student’s selection.

NAVIGATION TIP #3: Throughout the Challenge, students can use the Budget and Cash Flow Spreadsheet (CFS) to assess their cash and determine if their current 401(k) contribution leaves them with enough to pay bills on time.


Here are some questions to ask when prepping your CFS:

  1. Is my bank account projected to be positive based on the current budget?
  2. Do I have the right bank account type?
  3. Should I change my 401(k) percentage?
  4. Should I pay more or less on my credit card to fit my budget?
  5. Look at the Checking Account Balance Column (Column O, highlighted in yellow).
    1. At any point did the numbers turn red?
    2. What does it mean when the numbers turn red in the balance column?
    3. Were you able to pay all of your bills in full and on time without
      going below the minimum balance requirement (for the checking account type you selected) or going negative?
      1. If you answered yes, what could you have done to prevent your account from going negative and/or going below your account minimum?
    4. What methods will you use to remember to pay your bills and keep your Budget and Cash Flow Spreadsheet updated?


  1. There is a one-day hold on deposits. Enter deposits into the CFS on the date the funds are available.
  2. Entering the check amount in your CFS does not pay the bill. Once the simulation begins, go to Student Home>Bank to issue checks to vendors.
  3. You can change your vendor choices in Vendor Selections Tabs until the simulation starts. Once the simulation begins, you can only change your 401(k) contribution percentage (at Student Home>401(k)) and your bank account type (at Student Home>Bank).


  1. Project and record future payments to vendors based on the cycle day, due day, grace period, bill amount, and billing frequency for your vendor selections by entering the bill amount for each vendor for the appropriate date.
  2. Determine and record contracted bank fees in the “withdrawals, transfers, & bank fees” (pink column C) on your CFS, based on planned transactions and your selected bank account option. For example, if you selected a checking account with per check fees, each day a check is set to clear make sure you include $0.50 in the withdrawals, transfers & bank fees column for the check fee on that day. 
  3. Record possible future transfers of funds from your checking account to your savings account for an unexpected event.  Track transfers from checking to savings in the “withdrawals, transfers, & bank fees” (pink column C) on your CFS.
  4. Analyze the budget you have created to determine if you will have enough money to pay your bills, save for retirement, and save money in your savings account based on your vendor selections and 401(k) contribution percentage.  If not, make changes to your vendor selections and/or your 401(k) contribution percentage on Student Home>Vendor Selections.
  5. Make sure you save a copy of your CFS as you will be using it throughout the game to manage your daily inflow and outflow of cash and to reconcile your CFS with your checking account.


Adjusting your Net Pay

  1. After building your budget you may determine you need to change your net pay. If the simulation has not started you can change your selected contribution percentage on the Vendor Selections> Job tab. If the simulation has started you can change your contribution percentage on the Employer page.
  2. Changes to 401(k) contribution percentage must be made at least one day (Wednesday) prior to the next scheduled paycheck (Thursday) before midnight EST. You cannot change a contribution percentage on the day that a paycheck is issued. Changes cannot be made to the 401(k) contribution % after the final paycheck in the simulation.
  3. Remember the goal is to save enough in your 401(k) in the first 4 pay period to achieve the “Retirement Savings” goal and earn the trophy and still have enough net pay direct deposited into your checking account that you can use to establish and maintain a $500 emergency fund (by the 11th day), pay off the credit card balance (by the second statement), pay down your student loan debt (extra $500 by the end of the game), and pay all bills on time and in full (first 20 days and rest of the simulation), while maintaining good credit health (don’t carry a credit card balance and avoid fees and penalties).
  4. The Payroll Calculator on the Vendor Selections>Job tab displays the net pay schedule as it relates to your 401(k) contribution percentage displaying the amount of payroll deductions resulting in your bi-weekly net pay in the far right-hand column.


Using the CFS

Maintaining your CFS

  1. During the Budget Challenge® game, use the CFS as a tool for tracking your available checking account balance and reconciling your CFS to your bank account activity on a regular basis to your monthly bank statement both on the Bankpage. Knowing your available cash balance will help you to pay your bills on time without incurring costly fees (such as NSF, returned check, overdraft, and late fees).
  2. Once the game begins and transactions are occurring make sure to update your “projected” budget with the real-time transactions as they occur. Your plan is an estimate and there will be differences between your “plan” and the transactions as recorded in your bank activity. By keeping your CFS up to date you will know your true available checking account balance. This allows you to project future cash flows and to use your CFS as a tool to help achieve all six key financial goals.
    Reconcile your bank account often. The “Checking Acct Balance” column on the CFS should match the “Current Balance” in the right-hand column of the bank activity table on the Bank page for the same date. If the balance per the CFS on a particular date matches the balance per the bank activity table or bank statement for the same date, then the account is in balance and the reconciliation is complete.

Projecting Future Cash Flows

The CFS is a unique tool that lets you not only track your daily inflows and outflows of cash and reconcile your checking account but to build a future plan to manage cash flow and achieve financial goals. Using an accurate and reconciled CFS you can project future cash flows and manage your projected checking account balance.

  • Future vendor checks based on contracts found on Student Home>Vendor Selections
  • Transfers to savings
  • Credit card payment amounts
  • Anticipated changes in net pay (based on 401(k) contribution %)
  • Bank fees (vary by bank account option)


Curriculum & Quizzes

Check the collapsed view of the Written Test on the Road Map for “Take Action” alerts for outstanding quizzes.

There are 1-2 curriculum topics for each week. Each curriculum topic includes a video introduction, reading material, a glossary, and wrap-up video. For some topics, additional resources are available. It is important that you complete the provided curriculum not only to perform well on the quizzes but to build the knowledge needed to be successful in your financial life.
The posted open dates for quizzes are Eastern Standard Time. Once the quiz opens it will remain open until taken or until the end of the game.
With a quiz module open you can review the reading material for the unit to help answer the quiz questions by clicking on a keyword for additional information on the topic and linking back to the reading material.
You may view a quiz multiple times but may only submit answers once. The quiz is not submitted until you verify your submission by clicking “Submit”. Once, submitted the quiz cannot be re-opened and the grade for that quiz is locked in.  Each quiz has 10 questions and is worth 10 points.  Quiz results are processed overnight and are reflected in your average quiz score in the written test section of the Dashboard the following day. Once a quiz has been submitted the button in the written test section of the Dashboard will no longer be visible.

To pass the written test you must have an average quiz score of 80%.

Rank and Stats


Points in the game are a measure of performance which evaluates skill in the practical application of personal finance concepts. The score illustrates the importance of balancing current and future cash needs, timely bill payments and resourcefulness in the application of financial concepts.

Your points earned are used for ranking you in your class.  Points are updated each night and are visible the next day in the Rank and Stats section of the Dashboard.

Paying bills on time is expected per the terms and conditions in the contracts with each vendor. Failure to pay bills on time results in penalties and fees which increase transaction costs. You do not receive points for keeping money in your checking account. The 401(k) contributions can only be made via paycheck deduction and once deposited cannot be withdrawn.  Fees and penalties are deducted from your points on the date incurred.

You receive points for each trophy earned.  For details on how to earn each trophy and the number of points earned visit the Road Test section on the Dashboard. Trophy points are awarded when earned except for the Debt Reduction trophy which awards its points as a bonus at the end of the simulation.

Top performers will earn the Victory Lane Certificate.  This well-earned certificate indicates the participant passed the Road Test, Written Test, and finished the game with at least 10,000 points.

Where to get help

During registration, you have access to videos, resources and the Help Desk for assistance and the Quick Tips page for step-by-step instructions for routine tasks and navigating the game found on Vendor Selections.
Once the simulation starts, you will gain access to vendor pages with FAQs at the bottom of each page for answers to vendor specific questions.
Our Help Desk is staffed with live Customer Service agents available to answer questions during registration and during the game. You can submit questions at Student Home>Help Desk. Please note that your teacher or program facilitator will be carbon copied on the email response and will have visibility into the initial question asked. A turnaround time of one business day can be expected, although it may be longer in times of high volume or if complex research is involved. Courteous, professional emails are appreciated.

Simulation End

Post-Simulation Knowledge Assessment

The Post-Simulation Knowledge Assessment opens with one week of the game remaining. The assessment is open for 7 days. All units remain open during the assessment.  Like a quiz, the exam is not submitted until you click “Submit”, locking in your score, and once submitted cannot be re-opened. The exam must be submitted by 11:55 PM EST on the last day of the simulation.

How to Pass

Passing the Road Test

In order to pass the Road Test, you must demonstrate proficiency (receive the trophy) for 5 out of the 6 key financial goals.

Passing the Written Test

In order to pass the written test, you must achieve an 80% quiz average on all quizzes and Post-Simulation Knowledge Assessment.


At the end of the 10 weeks, you will be awarded one of 3 certificates based on your performance on the Road Test and the written test. Your certificate is available for printing on Student Home > Certificates of Completion the morning after the final day of the simulation.

  • Passed the Road Test – Earned a minimum of 5 out of 6 trophies
  • Passed the Written Test – Scored a minimum quiz average of 80%
  • Passed the Road Test and the Written Test and scored 10,000 points – Victory Lane

Simulation Survey

We value feedback from our participants.  At the end of the simulation, you will receive an email with a link to a quick survey. Please take the time to provide your insight and share your experience with the program.   We use feedback from facilitators and participants to improve our program every year.

Wrap Up Video

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