Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Reality check for students

Game teaches life skills

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ALEXANDRIA — Imagine being a 25-year-old married teacher and the mother of a 2-year-old girl. Or being a lawyer with a 3-year-old son.

        Either way, your spouse isn't working this month and can't watch the child. It's up to you to feed, house, clothe and transport the family.

        That's the scenario students in several Northern Kentucky high schools will face this week when they visit the “reality store.” The lesson in economics and budgeting is designed to show students whether their career choice will provide the type of lifestyle they want.

        The idea is to arm students with the knowledge they need to set goals now for the life they want in the future.

        Campbell County High School students participated in the exercise Tuesday. Students from Dayton, Dixie, Scott and Simon Kenton will participate later this week.

        At Campbell High, Tiffany Carson is the teacher. Adam Barnes is the lawyer. Both are freshmen. Tiffany started with a monthly salary of $1,779.33; Adam's balance was $2,379.33.

        Students visit different stations, run by volunteers and local business people, to buy necessities and entertainment.

        Tiffany and Adam stopped first at college. Tiffany's student loans will cost $150 a month; Adam got a scholarship. The two decided to skip the “crystal ball” table, a station that can grant lottery winnings or a bill for a broken-down car.

        “If I get really poor, then I might come back,” Tiffany said.

        Next stop is the investment station, where Art Chaney with Security First Group, explains 401(k) savings programs. He tells the students to put 4 percent of their salary in savings so they can earn a company match up to 2 percent. It'll cost Tiffany $73.73 a month to save $771,000 by the time she's 60. Adam will invest $105.33 a month to earn $1.1 million by retirement.

        Then there is $154 for furniture and $191 for utilities. Tiffany saved some money by opting out of cable.

        “I'm not doing too good,” she said. “The money goes fast.”

        Still, the two checked out entertainment options before going to the grocery. They put entertainment on hold after seeing the prices. Groceries cost $531 a month and child care added up to $376.

        “Oh my gosh! I'm broke!” Tiffany said after realizing she had only $303.60 left in her account. Adam still had $600.

        Churches and social service agencies asked for donations. Tiffany declined. Adam offered 10 percent of his salary. Then there was the matter of a car. Adam wanted a Ford Mus tang. He could afford only a Ford ZX2. Tiffany's luck was even worse.

        “What are we down to?” Rob Green, general manager at Fordland in Alexandria, asked Tiffany. “$173? Do you like to ride the bus?”

        The two walked away a little dejected. They didn't realize how the little things in life add up. That's when Tiffany and Adam remembered: They hadn't even paid for housing yet.

        “You really need to think about what you want to have and what it will cost. You need to plan,” Tiffany said.

        That's exactly what teachers Connie Hervey and Nicole Holbein hoped students would realize. Before going to the reality store, many students discussed living at home or taking their parents' used furniture for their apartments, and asking their parents to provide the child care, Ms. Holbein said. Teachers wanted students to realize they won't be able to rely on Mom and Dad all the time.

        “I learned that you really need to invest,” Adam said. “It's harder than you think in the real world.”


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