MOUNT VERNON — Creating and sticking to a budget can be difficult for even adults to manage, but with the help of the Knox County Ohio State University Extension Office, eighth-graders at Mount Vernon Middle School got a small taste of some of the struggles associated with proper financing Thursday morning during the Real Money Real World simulation.
All of the students are given basic character traits as they start their “real world” experiences, Program Coordinator Larry Hall explained to the News. They are each 27 years old, with a significant other named Chris, who is a full-time student. Chris is able to contribute $400 to the household budget, but is unavailable to help with childcare, he said. The students are randomly assigned children — some with no children and some have multiple children of varying ages.
The students move around to all of the stations to pay their bills, which include transportation, housing, childcare, groceries, clothing, entertainment, utilities, insurance, phone and Internet communications, financial advice, student loans and debts and the challenge of chance, which is a luck of the draw station that lands students with either an unexpected expense or fortune.
“Whatever choices they make affects the whole family,” Hall said. “The types of clothing, the quality of food and the size of their vehicle, it all has to match the family, you can’t put three kids in the backseat of a compact.”
The goal of this event is to instill financial literacy skills at an early age and it ties into Ohio Department of Education financial literacy standards, Hall said. The simulation ran in sessions over three hours Thursday morning and the 300 participating eighth-graders will go on to repeat this event as Juniors and Seniors at the Knox County Career Center or Mount Vernon High School, but this initial simulation gets them thinking about the importance of finances.
“They get it twice, this financial literacy program, and hopefully they make better decisions in life because of the shock value of ‘What? Kids cost how much?’” Hall said. “The average cost to raise a kid from birth to age 18 is $246,000. They really have to be prepared for the sticker shock, for their commitments. Some day, they’re going to be adults, or they think they’re going to be adults, and they have to make these decisions. If they’ve started saving at an early age, and compounding interest, they’re much better off than just floating around on mom and dad, and getting their wants met, not their needs met.”
The event has been held at the Middle School for seven years after Family and Consumer Sciences teacher Sabrina Pugh worked to coordinate it with the OSU extension office. Hall explained that although this simulation is coordinated by the extension office, it is largely operated by community volunteers and organizations, who come together to make this event successful, including retired teachers and school community members, volunteers from banks all over Knox County, New Directions and even members of the board of education.
“This is a great opportunity for our students to have increased knowledge of income, debt, education and careers,” Mount Vernon City Schools board of education member and volunteer Cheryl Feasel shared with the News. “One student said to me, ‘This helps me learn to save money and life isn’t always easy.’”
Hall explained that there is not a cookie-cutter approach to the simulation, as there is not a cookie-cutter approach to life. Some students will have college educated characters, and others will have a high school diploma and trade school certifications. Not everyone is going to go get a Master’s Degree, Hall said, but if they see that an entry level job only pays so much and they have to pay for two kids, and someone else might make a little bit more with their education, that might change their aspirations to include more training.
The simulation shows students that expenses can creep up in life and budgeting for things is never easy. Eighth-grader John Humphrey, who enjoyed a fictional life as a Chemist with no children, explained that this event has showed him just how easy it is to spend money as you make it.
“In real life, money isn’t as easy as it seems,” Humphrey said. “You’re always going to run into things that happen, like running out of money, having to take care of your kids, just how to manage it. It’s easier to pay money than it is to save it. You get more interesting experiences when you pay the money, but if you really don’t have it, you shouldn’t pay it.”