- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - Junior Achievement of the Wabash Valley helps students understand finances

Lauren England didn’t realize how much utilities cost.

Camden Johnson didn’t know Uncle Sam would demand so much of his hard-earned paycheck.

And Peyton Kirkham discovered that “kids cost a lot of money” when he learned child care for three children would cost $900 a month.

England and Johnson are eighth-graders at Honey Creek Middle School, and Kirkham is an eighth-grader at Otter Creek Middle School. All three participated in an eye-opening experience Tuesday called “Let’s Get Real,” a real-life simulation to provide eighth-graders the opportunity to explore career choices and make lifestyle and budget decisions.

All VCSC middle school eighth-graders participate, as well as students from St. Patrick’s and Rural Community Academy, the Tribune-Star reported (https://bit.ly/1vbfaBv ).

In the simulation, the middle-schoolers assume the identities of 28-year-old adults with no financial assistance from home. They are assigned careers and then “draw” for family status. Then, students proceed through several stations, including housing, taxes, transportation, child care and entertainment. The event is conducted by the Academic Business Council and Junior Achievement of the Wabash Valley, with several other sponsors.

Let’s Get Real involves more than 200 volunteers over two days. Two more sessions were scheduled Wednesday.

“It’s just a very fast-paced lesson in what our teenagers are going to face when they are about a 28-year-old adult” with careers and family, said Peggy Murdock, interim president of Junior Achievement of the Wabash Valley.

The goal at the end is “to not be in debt” and still have money in their account, Murdock said. For several items, including housing, clothing, household needs and automobile options, they can decide whether to go with “cheap,” average or expensive options.

Another goal is for students to realize that by furthering their education, they’ll obtain better-paying jobs that enable them to pay their bills and have the lifestyle they want.

The event includes a “Wheel of Fortune” where students may draw a speeding ticket and have to pay up or receive a tax refund check of $150, among other possibilities.

Kirkham earned $5,000 per month as a physical therapist, and his “wife” made $1,500 per month. The “family” included three children - which is why he had to pay $900 monthly in child care costs.

His taxes were $617 per month and he chose to buy a home at an “average” cost of $825 per month. Utilities were $300 per month; $325 per month went for savings; household needs (new furniture and appliances) were $250 per month; and groceries, $675 per month. He chose “average” priced cars but splurged on expensive clothing at $1,000 per month. He also paid $420 for health insurance but earned back $64 per month through the Wheel of Fortune because he quit smoking.

At the end, he had $347 left, he said - but he had not yet made a mandatory donation to a charity.

When he was done, Kirkham realized he had probably spent too much on expensive clothing, but overall, he believed he did okay, because he had money left over. Let’s Get Real made Kirkham realize he needs to focus on necessities first, including such things as good health insurance and a nice car to transport a family.

In real life, Kirkham hopes to attend Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and become an engineer.

Douglas Dillion, a student at Honey Creek Middle School, has a better understanding of where his paycheck will go - and much of it on such things as taxes, health insurance and groceries.

“It was surprising how you can make so much money and still not have as much left at the end of the month,” said Dillion, who would like to become an engineer. “I know I need to be careful in what I spend it on and not waste it on stupid stuff.”

Braxton Scamihorn, also a Honey Creek student, learned a greater appreciation for his parents and what it takes to pay the bills. Scamihorn realizes that “when parents say they have a hard time with money and jobs and stuff, they are being serious in saying they have a short amount of money.”

Victoria Mier, an Otter Creek student, said Let’s Get Real helped her better understand that “you have to learn how to budget. You can’t just spend everything you want to, where you want to. You have to learn that certain things are more important than others.”

Doug Dillion, VCSC director of career and technical education, said students are exploring college and careers in eighth grade and planning high school classes. Let’s Get Real helps open their eyes and puts in perspective how much they will need to make to pay their bills and support a family.

Other Let’s Get Real sponsors included Servus, Terre Haute Savings Bank, Homework Hotline, Indiana State University, Ivy Tech, Harrison College and the Vigo County School Corp.

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Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com

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