As adults, we have to work hard to make our monthly income cover the necessities and still have a little left over at the end of the month. Would it not be great if we could have had a “trial run” at adult spending decisions while we were still young and able to choose our future career?
That is the idea behind “Real Money, Real World,” a program supported by Ohio State University Extension, Sandusky County that allows middle and high school students to get a taste of adult life.
“Real Money, Real World helps youths realize that career choice, education and potential lifestyle are related,” said Sharon L. Mader, Sandusky County Family & Consumer Sciences educator. “It is a way for students to see firsthand how expenses for necessities, as well as luxuries, must be balanced with the reality of monthly income.” Here is how Real Money, Real World works: school officials and the local Extension professional invite community business representatives and volunteers to set up booths at the school. The booths provide various services such as banking, groceries, transportation, childcare and utilities. Students are offered career choices based on their educational aspirations. With their monthly “paychecks” in hand, students are required to visit each store to purchase goods and services. Those who spend wisely may have money left over at the end of the month; students who make lower salaries or make expensive purchases barely break even, or may even go bankrupt.
For those who cannot make ends meet, there is a financial advice booth where advice and options are offered.
It is all just make-believe, but it carries a serious message. “A lot of teens have big ideas about buying a fancy car or a big house, but they really cannot afford it,” said Mader, who has helped organize the Real Money, Real World simulation. “Going through Real Money, Real World and seeing for themselves how expensive life can be makes a big impact with the students.”
Real Money, Real World is planned as close to real life as possible. Students select or are assigned a random career, marital status, and number of children. They quickly learn how childcare amounts to one of the biggest expenses. They also must visit the “chance” booth where “life” deals them something unexpected. It could be good, like winning free groceries, or bad, such as having to buy new tires for the car.
Students choose from a long career list that includes electrical engineer, government administrator, construction worker, aircraft mechanic, cook, custodian and veterinarian. “The idea is not to tell them which careers are best,” said Mader, “but to teach youths that they need to plan ahead. A minimum wage job may sound like a lot of money to someone who is 16, but we want them to ask themselves if minimum wage will meet their needs when they are 30.”
Clyde High School student Spencer Branton gets a glimpse of the “real world” talking to Kandy Kimble, occupational resource staff member at a recent “Real Money, Real World” program.