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Like participants in television reality shows, eighth graders at LaRue County Middle School will sample their own taste of the real world when they participate in the Reality Store in the school’s gym Thursday, April 30.
“Its purpose is to educate them about budgeting, finances – to give them a wake-up call about what things, including taxes, child care and groceries, cost a family,” said Misty Wilmoth, 4-H extension agent. The extension office and the school district’s Youth Service Center sponsor the day-long event.
To participate, each student pretends to be a 25-year-old single income wage earner. Through the luck of the draw, some may be married with no children, or they could have up to two kids. Each is assigned an occupation that pays in the range of what real jobs pay in this area of Kentucky.
“We receive information from the state 4-H office that lists salaries for many different occupations in Kentucky that we use in the Store,” said Wilmoth. “We want the salaries to be realistic for each occupation that the students have.”
Each student’s goal is to budget that month’s expenses successfully, so there’ll be some money left between paychecks. Many are surprised when they realize that they can’t simply spend money on the things they want. Instead, they have obligations that eat into their income.
“It’s a real eye opener for them, as they see their money start to go out for everyday expenses,” said Wilmoth.
Volunteers, most of them in the same profession as they represent in the Store, man booths depicting their types of businesses and organizations.
Reality begins to set in when students first must have taxes taken from their paychecks. After setting up a checking account, they’re off to various tables manned by volunteers who represent housing, transportation, fuel, utilities, life/car insurance, child care, groceries, furniture, clothing, communications (cell phone, Internet), entertainment (eating out, vacations, movies) and health and beauty aids.
“Reality really sets in for a lot of them when, for instance, they really want a new car, but find that after paying their living expenses, such as insurance, clothing and childcare costs, they don’t have enough to buy the vehicle,” Wilmoth said. “It really helps them to understand how their parents struggle to make ends meet in their own family, especially in these days when the economy is so bad.”
As in real life, the students can go to others for help and advice.
“We have an S.O.S table set up to assist those students who might not be in the black at the end of the month,” said Wilmoth. “We also can set them up with supplemental jobs to augment their income; by this time, a lot of them are realizing that what they want is not what they can afford.”
Also, just as in real life, they must visit the Chance booth where the news can be good, or bad.
There, they may find that a flat tire costs them an extra $50 or they might receive $20 as a birthday gift.
Volunteers sign off that the students have visited their tables. Students who finish the class period with money in the bank receive a Payday candy bar, symbolic of their success. Those who end up in the red get a Zero candy bar.
They fill out evaluation forms which give them a chance to express what Wilmoth is hopeful they have learned during the experience.
“The kids really have a good time, but some of them take it very seriously and become upset because they couldn’t make ends meet,” said Wilmoth. “They learn that life is a series of choices, good or bad, and they also learn that maybe what they want is not what they can afford. Most of them appreciate their parents a little more after this experience.”
She invited students’ parents or others in the community to volunteer to help in the Reality Store booths. Those interested may call Wilmoth at 358-3401.