‘$pending Frenzy’ Returns!

This spring, after a more than two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, First Nations Development Institute reintroduced its signature financial skills program, $pending Frenzy, in schools and at in-person venues.

The first stop was Gallup, New Mexico, for a youth empowerment event at Central High School to remind students about the importance of financial planning. On Friday, April 22, students convened in the school’s gymnasium to participate in $pending Frenzy ― Indian Country’s premiere interactive financial skills simulation designed to introduce budgeting, consumer awareness, and independent living to teens and young adults.

Alandria Bahe (left) and Marisa Garcia participate in “$pending Frenzy” at Gallup Central High School in New Mexico.

Central High first introduced $pending Frenzy in coordination with a financial literacy class taught by math teacher, Arnold Blum.

“Financial education is a priority at Central High,” shared Blum. “We have many students who work part-time while balancing their studies. They can take the knowledge and information they acquire during ‘$pending Frenzy’ and put it to use immediately.”

The Central High $pending Frenzy featured local volunteers who staffed Big Money Bank, Munchie’s Food and Beverage, Rez Rockets Auto Sales, and other $pending Frenzy fictional businesses where students made purchases using Native-themed play money.

“It’s great to get back into schools to host $pending Frenzy,” commented First Financial Credit Union’s Dale Dedrick who helped organize the event. “One of the things the pandemic reinforced is the need for healthy financial habits and practices. $pending Frenzy is an engaging, effective, and fun way to teach young people those valuable lessons.”

$pending Frenzy was created by First Nations Development Institute in partnership with financial education consultant Shawn Spruce. Since 2011, the program has been facilitated at more than 100 schools, conferences, and community centers across the country.

In 2016, in response to overwhelming demand, First Nations began producing $pending Frenzy kits available for purchase that enable community development financial institutions, credit unions, schools, and other partnering organizations to facilitate their own $pending Frenzy events.

How the financial program works

Participants usually begin $pending Frenzy with $30,000 in crisp stacks of play money, although some communities adjust this amount. For example, tribes that place per capita payments from gaming revenues and other sources into a minor’s trust might host a “$pending Frenzy” before trust beneficiaries are first eligible to receive distributions, usually at age 18.

Students cash checks at the “$pending Frenzy.”

This community-specific approach provides a young person with an opportunity to have a trial run at managing a lump-sum payment before accessing real money. A forward-thinking strategy can help prepare someone for financial, social, and emotional challenges and pitfalls that might lie ahead.

Because $pending Frenzy covers a one-year time frame, participants are often surprised at how quickly their cash is depleted after paying income tax, purchasing a vehicle, buying food, and renting an apartment.

“I thought it was fun and very educational,” stated Marisa Garcia, an 18-year-old Central High senior. “It definitely taught us that we need to look at things we can afford instead of just buying whatever we want. It also showed us that things in life happen that can really hurt us financially, so we also need to plan smart.”

The Gallup Central High $pending Frenzy was made possible by a partnership of community volunteers and local businesses. In addition to First Financial Credit Union, other organizations that participated included Amigo Automotive Group, Lowes Supermarket, Amazing Grace Insurance, Coldwell Banker High Desert Realty, and First Nations.

‘$pending Frenzy’ app goes live! 

When the pandemic suddenly forced Indian Country into lockdown, along with the rest of the world, First Nations was forced to quickly adapt all programs and services to virtual and remote formats.

However, the $pending Frenzy program faced a unique challenge: How do you adapt a hands-on, independent living simulation specifically designed for in-person financial skill-building to remote learning? Unfortunately, giant stacks of play money, handwritten worksheets, and thumbed-over receipt booklets aren’t ideal teaching tools in a contactless, socially distanced learning environment.

With help from Spruce and financial support from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, the $pending Frenzy app was created as a tech-friendly response to the COVID-19 pandemic. NACDC Financial Services, a community development financial institution in Browning, Montana, helped design and pilot the app. CM3 Solutions provided technical services and app programming, with graphics and artwork created by ver5design.

“We’re really excited to take $pending Frenzy to the next level,” commented Jackie Francke, vice-president of Programs and Administration at First Nations. “The pandemic hit Indian Country hard and grounded many of our programs. However, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation stepped up with the flexibility and support that allowed us to think creatively and innovate.”

The browser-based $pending Frenzy app maintains all the classic features that made the original $pending Frenzy program a hit with audiences across Native America: An intuitive, user-friendly menu and interface; rich, culturally aligned graphics; and an electronic money log all add up to a fun, high-impact learning experience.

Users simply create a username and password, and they are ready to embark on a virtual financial journey that captures all the elements of the in-person $pending Frenzy program.

The electronic money log that keeps a running total of expenses is one feature that students who piloted the app thought was especially useful. Moreover, the ability to perform paperless electronic transactions make the $pending Frenzy app a similar experience to a mobile banking or mobile payment app, which are the norm for today’s fintech consumers.

“We were thrilled to be able to support the ‘$pending Frenzy’ app project,” stated Matt Harrington, business advisor and mini-bank coordinator at NACDC. “$pending Frenzy is an immensely popular program throughout Indian Country. And because we provide a great deal of youth programming, it just made sense to help with the app. Feedback from students who piloted the app in Browning has been fantastic, too.”

First Nations is extremely proud of $pending Frenzy and our other pioneering financial education programs. We also look forward to continuing ongoing efforts to expand financial empowerment opportunities in Native communities as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information about ordering a $pending Frenzy kit or to request a $pending Frenzy workshop in your community, please contact Simone Klein ( or Shawn Spruce (

For more information about the $pending Frenzy app, reach out to Shawn Spruce or access the app directly: