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Students get hands-on financial insight, lessons
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- When youth look forward to getting out into the "real world," they often forget the necessity of making car payments, paying daycare and meeting a monthly financial budget.
Mississippi State University Extension Service 4-H agents in Marion County hope to enlighten high school students about the responsibilities of adults in the real world. A hands-on life simulation, the "Real World" is designed to allow students to experience their futures in a fun and educational way.
"The students research different careers to learn approximate monthly and annual salaries so they come into the 'Real World' knowing how much money they will have," said Kathy Petty, 4-H program associate in Marion County. "The students draw slips of paper from a jar that tell them if they are married or single, and the number and ages of their children. Everyone will have at least one child."
Booths are set up by local businesses to represent the different areas where students can spend their money. After visiting the "Uncle Sam" booth to pay taxes and opening checking and savings accounts at the Bank, students must then visit a variety of booths, including Utilities, Grocery, Housing, Insurance, Child Care, Entertainment, Medical/Dental and Transportation.
"The booths can be visited in any order, but students must have housing and transportation before they can visit Insurance," Petty explained. "All students must have transportation and housing insurance -- even renters."
They may then need to revisit other booths to make changes in what was purchased. As a last resort, they may be told to get a second job -- especially if they are single with more than one child.
"As the students go from booth to booth, the amount they spend is deducted from their checking account," Petty said. "This way they can see how much money they spend and where they need to make changes."
For an added real-life impact, the Crystal Ball booth represents unexpected life events, which can result in extra income or expenses.
"Unexpected events could include receiving a Christmas bonus or a gift of $100 from an uncle. Or the student may have gotten a $75 speeding ticket," Petty explained. "A student may gain extra money from a garage sale, or the student may have unexpectedly have to pay for prescription medicine, lawn mower repair or new tires for their car."
Petty said most children do not grasp the concept of budgeting and meeting the financial demands adults face each day. The goal of the program is to give students a realistic picture of their futures so they can make wise decisions as they become adults themselves.
"At the end of the day, students return to their classrooms and discuss their choices and where they went wrong," Petty said. "The 'Real World' gives students the opportunity to discover how much things actually cost and what their parents are doing each month."
Petty said one student who participated in the "Real World" exercise discovered she could not make it in the real world as a day care worker, so she decided to go to college and become a teacher. Other students realize getting married and having children should probably wait a few years until they are financially able to handle those responsibilities.
Organizers plan to add a Credit Card booth to the "Real World," designed to combat the growing trend of college students carrying cards with high balances. Studies have shown that college students graduate with an average of more than $20,000 in combined education loan and credit card balances.
"Unfortunately, I think children will continue to apply for and accept credit cards as long as they are available," Petty said. "But at least with this program, we have an opportunity to talk to them and warn them about the pitfalls before they encounter the offers."
Contact: Kathy Petty, (601) 736-8251