“It’s kinda scary,” said Carson Zurmehly, an eighth-grader at Grayson County Middle School who participated in the annual ‘Reality Store’ event on Thursday morning.
Zurmehly was one of approximately 300 students who were assigned a random job, income and family size before heading into the ‘real world’ to make responsible financial decisions and budget for such things as housing, health care, groceries and even entertainment and traffic citations.
Event organizer Kindra Ewing Jones said that the 4-H Extension program, which is also co-sponsored by the Wilkey Family Resource Center and the Chamber of Commerce, strives to teach middle-schoolers to “know the importance of making smart financial choices as an adult, and even as a kid becoming an adult; and to know the value of education.”
“College isn’t for everybody,” Jones said, “but they need something beyond high school, some kind of training. The more you know, the better off you’re going to be.”
This makes Jones’ seventh year organizing the event, and she said, “I think this is one of the first years we really feel like the kids have gotten it, and it’s really made an impact.”
She went on to say, “I don’t know what the change is, but more of them seem to really get it and understand the value of smart financial choices. I think the teachers are really helping that, too.”
Bryan Hammons, a deputy with the Grayson County Sheriff’s Department, and one of many volunteers on hand for the event, said, “It really gives the kids a good idea of what’s to come.”
He pointed out that while the students thought making ends meet was tough during this exercise, “prices are going to be even higher by the time they’re adults.”
Student Morgan Stone said, “It’s more expensive than what we thought. You don’t get as much as you want.”
Stone was assigned a monthly income of $2,105 in monopoly money, which she used to purchase necessary items for herself and her assigned two-year-old child.
Stone’s friend, Alyson Knue, was randomly assigned a job as a public relations manager with a monthly income of $3,848, along with a husband and three kids.
When asked what the most surprising expense was, both Stone and Knue agreed that it was the ‘entertainment’ category that packed more of a punch than they had expected.
Like each of the other students, the girls each received some sort of court citation as part of the experience as well. Stone said she was ticketed and had to pay a fine for driving without a seat belt, while Knue netted citations for no seat belt and texting while driving.
When asked if they thought they would remember their Reality Store lessons by the time they were adults, both girls answered, “Oh, yeah!”