Activity: The Euro – Currency Exchange and Transaction Costs
Download Euro Activity: Teacher Guide, Handouts, Visuals (.doc file)
Students are given one of three types of currency and encouraged to participate in a market for a variety of inexpensive goods. Unfortunately, stores in the market are only open for a short time and each accepts only one type of currency. As they experience the frustration of trying to obtain the currency for the purchases they want to make, students explore ways to reduce these transaction costs. In round 2, the option of currency exchange at a bank is added to the activity, and in round 3, students have the option of trading in their money for a common currency.
- Currency exchange
- Exchange rates
- Transaction costs
Activity Aids and Materials
- all handouts, visuals, and teacher guide are included in the download – see link above
History Standards (from National Standards for History by the National Center for History in the Schools)
Era 10: Contemporary United States (1968 to the Present)
Standard 1: Recent developments in foreign policy and domestic politics.
1C: The student understands major foreign policy initiatives.
Standard 2: Economic, social, and cultural developments in Contemporary United States.
2A: The student understands economic patterns since 1968.
Therefore, the student is able to:
- Assess the effects of international trade, transnational business organization, and overseas competition on the economy.
Economics Standards (from Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics)
Economics Standard 5: Students will understand that: Voluntary exchange occurs only when all participating parties expect to gain. This is true for trade among individuals or organizations within a nation, and among individuals or organizations in different nations.
Economics Standard 6: Students will understand that: When individuals, regions, and nations specialize in what they can produce at the lowest cost and then trade with others, both production and consumption increase.
- Transaction costs are costs (other than price) that are associated with the purchase of a good or service. When transaction costs decrease, trade increases.
The importance of transaction costs, the “hassle” costs of transacting business, is sometimes overlooked in studying markets. Standing in line, searching for information, making comparisons, trying to get questions answered – all are real costs and they have enough of an impact that buyers and sellers in market economies make serious efforts to eliminate them. While transaction costs play a role in domestic markets, they take on even greater significance in international trade where currency exchange is necessary. In this activity, students experience the “hassle” of transaction costs and consider the benefits of reducing or eliminating them in markets involving international exchange.
The American history/current events connection to this lesson is the formation of the European Union, the creation of a free trade zone, and the gradual transition to the use of a common currency, the euro. Further, it has implications for NAFTA and for other trial balloons in the western hemisphere – like the proposal in some Latin American countries to adopt the U.S. dollar as official currency. The activity demonstrates to students that one of the major benefits of joining the EU or any other trade association is the reduction of the transaction costs that inhibit trade.
- One class period
- A variety of goods to sell in stores – for example:
- Several bags of small-size candy
- 10 – 20 cans of cold soda
- A large number of non-food items, different kinds of stuff: pencils, stickers, early release passes, extra credit points, free test question answers, homework excuses, etc.
- 2 sets of 2 tent signs for the stores (See instructions in download.)
- Currencies: (See directions at top of black line masters.)
Set Up Instructions
- Determine what will be sold in the 2 stores. Items need not be elaborate or expensive, just things that you are relatively certain students will want to purchase. The materials list (above) includes a food category and a non-food category, but this is only a suggestion. You could, for example, have:
- Two or more different types of candy in each store;
- One candy store and one drink store;
- A store that sells extra-credit points on the next test or homework assignment or 5-minute tardy or early release passes.
- It is ok to have a variety of items in each store, but there shouldn’t be too many choices. You don’t want students to spend inordinate amounts of time determining what to purchase – although some of this helps to increase the frustrations of the people waiting in line.
- You do want enough variety to keep most students in the class participating in all 3 rounds. You might consider adding a different type of candy or different brand of soft drink to the food store in each round, or selling candy only the first round and adding drinks the second, for example.
- Select workers for the stores. (For larger classes, have more than one seller in each store.)
- Set up the stores to one side of the classroom. Use tables large enough to spread out the merchandise, but small enough for a single storekeeper to control. Don’t crowd the stores together, but keep them close enough that those in the shopping lines can interact (and thus might be more inclined to trade currencies).
- Distributing money can be time-consuming. To reduce the time, make up the money packets ahead and ask a student to quickly hand them out while you give instructions.
- Give only yellows to 1/4 of the students.
- Give only blues to 1/4 of the students.
- Give only pinks to 1/2 of the students.
- Randomly vary the amounts of currency given to the students, so that each has 2-5 pieces of currency. No student should have more than one type of currency (in other words, only one color of paper notes).
- Save the euros for the last round of the activity. No student should have euros in the first two rounds of the activity.
- Don’t skimp with the currency. Although you don’t want one student to have enough to seriously deplete your stock in the store, you do want all students to perceive that they can participate, and enough to perceive the risk of trading currency to be relatively low.
- Randomly, distribute packets of currency to students – either pinks, yellows, or blues. (See Set Up Instructions, above.)
- Ask for 2 student volunteers to be sellers and offer to reward the sellers with a prize of some sort (large candy bar, extra credit points, etc.) Instruct the sellers to situate themselves at their stores where they will find their products and tent signs indicating prices. Make sure that sellers have some small denomination bills for change. (See Set Up Instructions, above.)
Once the sellers are in place, quickly give the class the following instructions:
- The currency you have in your hand is yours.
- Anything you purchase at a store is yours – to consume or save, give away, share, etc.
- Because there are only 2 stores and lots of customers, you may only purchase one item at a time. After you make your purchase, you may get back in the line and make another purchase if there’s anything left when it’s your turn again.
- Every time you make a purchase, you earn bonus money. Show me your purchase in order to claim your bonus. Bonuses will be paid only in the type of currency you had at the beginning of the game.
- Sellers may only accept the currency listed on the sign for their particular store. If a customer wants to purchase something in the store, he must have the right type of currency.
- Stores will be open only briefly – in 3-5minute rounds. You may shop in either store, or both.
- (Teacher note: Extend the trading round, if necessary, long enough that students begin to deal with the problem of not having the right currency.)
- Do not belabor the instructions or take questions. The objective is to get the students into the selling round as quickly as possible.
- Announce that the stores are open. (While timing the selling round, circulate among the students, paying bonuses of 2 or 3 additional pieces of currency to successful purchasers and taking note of their reactions for debriefing at the end of the round. If students try to exchange currencies, do not stop them, but do not announce this option or facilitate it.)
- Call time and ask all consumers to return to their seats. Discuss:
- Did everyone get what she wanted? (Post on the board the number of successful shoppers.) Why or why not?
- Focus on students who were frustrated by not having the currency the seller would accept. Once this problem has been identified, follow-up with questions that help students analyze the nature of the problem.
- If students didn’t get what they wanted because they didn’t have enough money, don’t ignore the situation, but don’t make it the focus of the discussion. Respond to students with this complaint by acknowledging that people have different levels of income and face different opportunity costs in purchasing products – and then give the students more currency so that they can make purchases in the next round. (Note that if some students have combined their money to make a purchase, it is ok.)
- Sellers: Why wouldn’t you take their money?
- Buyers: Did anyone manage to buy a product priced in a currency other than what you were given? How?
- Buyers: Why didn’t the rest of you do what the successful buyer did?
- What do people do in the real world? What can we do to solve the problem?
- Depending on the outcome of the first round, you may choose to designate it a practice round. If students were confused about the currencies or didn’t realize that they could trade currencies with each other, you may want to give in to their complaints and agree to run another round. Distribute additional currency if necessary.
- To prepare for the next round, you may distribute 1 – 2 additional pieces of currency (of the same type he already has) to each student, although this is not necessary as most students will still have money from rewards in the previous round.
- As a result of students’ suggestions, “agree” to open a bank that will exchange currencies.
- Ask students how you will know how many pinks or blues to exchange for how many yellows, etc.?
- Explain that exchange rates are determined in currency markets, where people bid for the currencies they want.
- Do NOT focus on the process of setting currency exchange rates. That is another lesson – to be taught either before or after this one. Refer to the activity, “Foreign Currency and Foreign Exchange,” in Lesson 7 to have students experience a currency market.
- Announce that you have researched the issue and based on information from the newspaper, you are willing to offer the following exchange rates to any student who wishes to come to your bank and exchange his or her currency.
- Display the exchange rates on the overhead transparency.
- Before opening the bank, make sure that the sellers still have adequate supplies of their products and replenish their stock if necessary.
- Hire a student (with good arithmetic skills) to be the banker.
- Announce that the selling round will again be only 3-5 minutes, and that there will, again, be bonuses for making purchases. Open the stores and the bank. (Don’t worry if the banker works slowly and not all students are able to exchange their money in time to make purchases; this is desirable.)
- Close the bank, call time, and close the stores. Ask all students to return to their seats. Distribute 1 or 2 additional pieces of currency (of the type the student originally held) to each student.
- Did you get what you wanted this time? (Post on the board the number who got their first choice.) Why or why not?
- Did you use the bank? Why or why not?
- Did the bank solve the problem? Why or why not?
- What, exactly, is the problem?
- Is it possible to solve / eliminate the problem? If so, how? If not, why not?
- Which currency should we use?
- Show students some “Euros” and post the exchange rate to euros for each of the three currencies.
- Replace the store signs with dual price (home currency/euros) signs. Instruct the sellers that they may accept either of the currencies listed on their signs.
- Tell the student “customers” that before the next selling round, they may exchange any or all of their currency for euros if they wish to do so. Students willing to exchange currencies should calculate the exchange from the rates posted on the board, so that they will be ready when you come around with the euros. Encourage students to have neighbors check their calculations. Circulate through the room, exchanging currency for euros (only) for any students who wish to do so.
- Open the stores for the final 3-5 minute round.
- End the round and have all students return to their seats.
- Were there advantages to the customers of using euros? Explain.
- Were there advantages to the sellers of accepting the euro? Explain.
- Transaction costs are the costs involved in making an exchange or transaction. What were some of the transaction costs you encountered in this activity?
- Are transaction costs included in the price of the product you wanted to buy?
- Who bears the burden of the transaction costs – the buyer or the seller? Who reaps the benefits of the transaction costs – the buyer or the seller?
- Are transaction costs desirable or should we try to reduce them?
- Use the notion of transaction costs to explain why some people chose not to exchange their currency for euros. (What other reasons might people have for not exchanging their currency?)
- Does having a common currency eliminate transaction costs?
- What function is served by all EU countries adopting the euro?
- Why might some countries be reluctant to change to a common currency?
- Extension question #1: Why is NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, seemingly unconcerned with reducing transaction costs by converting to a common North American currency?
- Extension question #2: Why is crude oil priced in U.S. dollars throughout the world?
- Extension question #3: In the simulation, which currency (pinks, blues, yellows) would you rather be trading for euros? Why? What factors would influence your answer to this question?