Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

November 1, 2012

Area students shop for heavy dose of reality

Rob Cox
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — GREENSBURG — Before Thursday, eighth-grader Casey Ogden didn’t know she wants to be a lawyer.

That changed, however, with Greensburg Junior High School’s (GJHS) Annual “Reality Store” event.

According to event organizer Leslie Asche-Thackery, funeral director at Greensburg’s Gilliland-Howe, the Reality Store gives kids hands-on, real-world-like experience managing money, creating and living on a budget and with what life in the “real-world” after high school entails. The event is for eighth-graders only, but includes students from all three area junior high schools.

Asche-Thackery, who’s been involved “4 or 5 years,” sees it as a chance to vastly expand children’s future opportunities in life.

“I firmly believe these kids will one day be taking care of us,” she said. “And we want to make sure they’re realistically prepared for the realities awaiting them in adulthood. Without programs like this, many of these kids would never even realize the multitude of opportunities available after high school.”

She continued, “In three months, they’ll all be planning high school careers. Now’s the time to set them thinking about what they want to accomplish in life. If they’re not thinking and dreaming big, they might never make it. High school’s not like it was when I went. It’s much more specialized and focused now.”

North Decatur High School (NDHS) guidance counselor Barb Lecher agreed. Lecher helps NDHS students who participate in the Reality Store complete a “Personality Inventory,” which includes a section wherein students choose careers that interest them from a large list. The point is to gauge student personality types and match them with careers that are known to suit specific types.

As such, the form students carried as they navigated the GJHS gym, walking from table to table, spending hypothetical money at the various businesses set up at each, included a “personality letter.”

“Personality types can also provide information about spending patterns,” Lecher explained. “And of course, the careers kids choose dictate how much money they’ll have to spend.”

The forms in question included a banking-style “check register” on the front for kids to keep track of withdrawals, deposits and ongoing balances. The form includes a “savings register” beneath that.

Unfortunately, many kids find themselves writing far more entries in the withdrawal column than in the deposit column and quickly end up overreaching and overdrawing.

“This really is helping me learn how banking and money in the real world work,” said participant Ally Gauck. I really had no idea about all the stuff you have to buy and how much it all really costs.”

“My monthly wage was my biggest surprise,” agreed participant Breanna Metz.

Added Ogden, “You don’t have nearly as much money as you think you have.”

Lecher confirmed that many kids are initially amazed and overjoyed by the amount of hypothetical money they’re allotted when they enter the Reality Store.

“They tend to think it has far more spending power than it actually does,” she said. “That’s extremely common. That’s why money management advice is one of the first things we provide them during the event.”

The back of the check register form reflects all the other money responsibilities kids face at the Reality Store.

Beneath a section for students to fill out tax information, the back of the form contained 20 boxes, four to a row, each containing a place for participants to catalogue various expenses. The boxes include such categories as “Student Loan,” “Life’s Unexpected,” “Pets,” “Groceries,” “Housing,” “Child Care,” “Insurance,” “Utilities,” and “Entertainment.”

For each box, organizers created a corresponding table at which businesses and professionals representing the various fields listed in the boxes offered advice and guidance.

Participant Macy Burkhart called the Reality Store an eye opener.

“This really teaches you the value of a dollar,” she said. “I had no idea houses and cars cost so much money.”

Her friend Meredith Fogle agreed. “I thought houses and cars were much cheaper than this.”

Asche-Thackery is happy to hear such comments.

“Those are exactly the type of lessons we’re hoping to teach kids with this event,” she said. “The Reality Store really helps open up kids to the realities of what it costs to live. Kids don’t think about things like paying for college; somewhere in their minds, a lot of them think it’s going to be free. They don’t consider the loans they’ll have to take out. The same thing goes for pets and insurance, groceries and housing. Kids just don’t think about this stuff.”

Lecher added that a side benefit of the Reality Store is that many kids begin to better empathize with their parents.

“Some of them seem to think they’re going to live with their parents forever,” she said. “This tends to open their eyes to the fact there’s a wider world of money, independence and responsibility awaiting them after high school.”

“I believe passionately in this,” Asche Thackery said. “I couldn’t do it if I didn’t.”

Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.