Making Ends Meet

Making Ends Meet

According to the Heart of West Michigan United Way, 37% of families in Kent County struggle to meet their basic needs, but they needed a way to ensure our community understood this heavy subject. They needed to build empathy in a moment when we are running short on that. Heart of West Michigan United Way enlisted our team to build a simulation tool to help people experience, in a small way, the decisions families are facing every day in West Michigan. 

How to play

The simulation takes about 10 minutes to play. Each character must make decisions based on common expenses that come up in your day-to-day life. To make it to the end of the month you must keep your bank account in the positive and your stress level at a manageable level.

Meet the characters

To represent people from all walks of life we decided to go with 4 main characters to choose from. These characters range from recent college grads to a senior couple. Each character has different choices to make, different experiences. Over the course of 30 days you get to experience the good and bad of living life in their shoes. 


Carissa is a single mother to her 8 year old son, Mika.


Anthony is a younger guy excited to carve out his own path in the big city.

Kara + Eric

Kara and Eric are a small family with two children, living in the city.

Sandra +Ed

Sandra and Ed are a senior couple with an empty nest and retirement stress.

Educating with Emotive Design​

There are many poverty simulators out there, what sets ours apart is the emotive design thinking that went into it. 

We decided to highlight the connections between family and friends and the things that happen regardless of your income. Small elements throughout the app help the users connect with their character and build empathy. Pushing poverty out of a numbers game and into emotive critical thinking reminds you that these are decisions we face every day.

Striking the Balance

Living with low income doesn’t mean it’s dark all the time. We made sure you would feel that while making decisions in the app. The timed animations help the user feel the impact of every choice. Whether it’s something stressful or something that’s going to break the bank you get immediate feedback.


This tool was innovative, not only for West Michigan but nationally. We were able to help Heart of West Michigan United Way spread the message of their new tool through various media appearances, resulting in the project being expanded to new regions across Michigan. Now Heart of West Michigan United Way has been able to license the tool to other communities in order to raise funds for their services.