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'Real World' makes financial impression
MISSISSIPPI STATE – A financial literacy program is leaving lasting impressions on high school students as they get a taste of the real world.
“Welcome to the Real World” introduces students to realistic scenarios and the budgeting challenges life can bring.
Teresa Lyle, family resource management area agent with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, brings the program to school groups ranging from 10 students to 300 or more.
“We aim for juniors and seniors in high school because many are going out into the world soon, but we've also used it for younger students. It helps them learn more about financial obligations as they reach adulthood,” Lyle said.
Each student is given a scenario that includes an occupation and entry-level salary, marital status and possibly children, and a check register. They must budget for a house, vehicle, utilities, food and other expenses such as child care. They also must pay taxes.
“They really don't like to pay taxes because it takes away from their money. The whole experience is a real eye-opener,” Lyle said. “They have to live within the salary and have at least $1 left over. They also have to establish a savings account. Loans are not an option. If they run out of money, they have to get a second job.”
Lyle has been conducting the program in schools since 2006. She said students often walk away with a greater commitment to their education and a desire to delay marriage and children.
“Many of them gain new appreciation for their parents,” she said. “It impresses on kids the need to wait on starting their families. They realize that life is not cheap, so they want to pick the best career possible, be financially sound before having children and get a good education.”
Lyle said the program involves volunteers from the community including bankers, insurance agents, child-care workers, car dealers, Internal Revenue Service personnel, representatives of the Better Business Bureau, state government officials, and Extension Service personnel, such as county directors, and 4-H and area agents.
Minadene Waldrop, secondary curriculum specialist for the Rankin County School District, said they could not offer the program without the Extension Service pulling resources together.
“Students benefit from tying in with local organizations such as the Extension Service and the business community,” she said. “Kids are pretty naive and don't realize the importance of things like insurance.”
Waldrop said some students went through the program twice, first in ninth grade and again before graduation.
“The lessons serve both age groups well. Ninth-graders gain an appreciation of what their parents go through, and 12th-graders are about to go out into the real world,” she said. “This program provides a valuable learning strategy.”
Lyle said she enjoys the opportunity to watch students learn from the lessons.
“The kids really get involved in the project. It is interesting to see them trying to live within their assigned salaries,” Lyle said. “Many want to rely on families or agencies for assistance rather than taking care of their own needs. They get frustrated when we tell them parents are not options for child care or loans.”