The Richmond Register

March 24, 2013

Sophomores, eighth-graders find out what it’s like in the real world

Students get a dose of ‘reality’

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

MADISON COUNTY — “I don’t want to grow up,” sophomore Kristyn Murphy said after completing a full round in the Madison Southern High School “reality store” last week.

Students stopped at every booth in the store, each representing various real-life factors that have a direct impact on an indivdual’s or a family’s budget.

Every sophomore completed the activity, which is intended to give students a better understanding of the cost of living once they leave high school.

Students learn skills in financial planning, goal setting, decision making and career planning, which is part of the sophomore curriculum, said Sean Quinlan, Southern’s Youth Service Center director and organizer of the event.

Each student received a “salary” based on their chosen occupation. However, students could only choose an occupation in a certain salary range based on how well they performed on PLAN, one of the tests in the ACT series used in state assessments.

Tyler Newell, 15, scored between a 21 and 24 on PLAN, so he chose to be a chiropractor making $72,000 a year.

Tyler, who for the purpose of this activity, was married with three children. He was most struck by the cost of groceries and elected to take the moderate grocery plan that cost $819 a month, he said.

However, he was pleasantly surprised that his mortgage payment of $575 for a three-bedroom home was a lot less than he expected.

As a “married mom with two children,” Kristyn was surprised at how much her family’s health insurance cost. As an audiologist, her salary was about $44,000 a year.

Although she chose to be “thrifty on everything,” she realized that day-to-day living is “very, very expensive,” she said.

“Groceries” was just one booth students could visit. They could choose a thrifty grocery plan, which would run around $360 a month with no children, or $602 with one child or more. There was a moderate option, which Tyler chose, and also a liberal option, which could run around $1,182 a month with one child or more.

Other expenses included insurance, taxes, clothing, child care, furniture, communication and entertainment and charitable contributions.

But one booth was reserved for those who “get a little in over their heads,” said retired teacher Doug Sallee.

Sallee, who helped start the Reality Store almost 20 years ago, occupied the “Supplemental Income” booth where students had the option to work an extra 20 hours at a movie theater on the weekends for $379 a month (after taxes). Or, they could work 16 hours as a server and make an additional $315 a month, among other options.

Sallee said from his experience, students are most surprised when they find out how many income taxes they must pay. “That just blows their minds,” he said.

Students also could spin a wheel at the Madison County Health Department’s booth. The wheel could land on something profitable, or something very costly.

For example, “You brush and floss everyday and limit sugary drinks. No cavities! Save $150 at a dental visit,” or “You are a tobacco user. Develop a suspicious growth. Biopsy: $200 (insured); $1,500 (uninsured).”

“Father of three” Nick Jolly quit smoking and saved himself $280 a month. However, he “would have never started smoking in the first place,” he said.

Southern Madison County middle school Reality Store

Early this month, Berea Community School hosted a reality store for middle schoolers “geared toward teaching eighth-grade students the importance of staying in school, how career choices affect financial status and the benefits of creating a budget,” said Charlotte Haycraft, GEAR UP academic specialist at Berea Middle.

Nearly 420 students from Farristown, Foley and Berea middle schools participated.

Students had a similar experience at this event to that of sophomores at Southern on Wednesday, except each students’ career choice was based on grade-point averages. Those who were unable to balance their budget were offered economic advice from a financial counselor.

Kentucky River Foothills, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and several local businesses provided 25 volunteers for the event.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.