Riverdale High School seniors are getting a taste of adulthood this week.
They spent Tuesday afternoon writing checks for groceries, budgeting money for rent and deciding if they really needed that new pair of shoes.
Sounds like real life, doesn’t it?
The lesson was part of "On My Own" workshop, a statewide program sponsored by UT Department of Family Consumer Sciences aimed at teaching middle and high school students about financial management, explained Amy Willis, an extension agent with the UT/TSU Extension – Rutherford County, who teaches the course.
It goes like this: Students fill out a personality test and then choose from a list of professions based on the test results, they’re given a set salary and learn about deductions and net pay, then the students practicing budgeting and check writing.
They visit stations and find out how much car payments, rent and insurance is, then make those purchases accordingly.
On day two, students are given a family – some large, others small – and “curveball cards” like a flat tire or emergency visit to veterinarian.
Only four of the 14 students in Carrie Ott’s Life Connections class had ever written a check, and several of them have jobs and spend from their own checking account.
Once students find out their new salary – and net pay after taxes – they are understandably frustrated.
Some will quietly make their budget work, while others ask for a career change once they realize how much education is required. Then there are students like 17-year-old Shelby Talley, who wanted to know the salary for each career before she chose one.
“I would rather be a job that I don’t necessarily like, but makes good money,” she says. “It may be something that I enjoy, but I know I’m not going to love my job unless (I’m) a rapper. But most people don’t enjoy what they’re doing.”
If money wasn’t an issue, Talley says she’d go into the fashion industry. The workshop, she says, is eye-opening and helps her realize the importance of understanding personal finance.
“It’s a good way to think about budgeting your money,” Talley said. “It gives people a good idea of what they will be doing when they get older and how much money we will be spending. But I definitely don’t want to pay for utilities when I get older.”
Another student, 17-year-old Anna Vongsaphay plans to attend MTSU in the fall to study nursing. And to save money, she’ll be living at home while going to school.
“This helps us learn what we are going to be dealing with in real life,” she said, while writing a faux check for a month’s worth of groceries.
These are all very normal responses, says Willis.
“They learn how much they have to spend,” she explained. “It’s a reality check, but they get it. They start finding out about better jobs … and appreciate their parents more.”
The program is about 10 years old, but has only been in Rutherford County about three years, since personal finance became a requirement for high school graduation. During each semester, Willis travels to local middle and high schools, and even the juvenile detention center, teaching youngsters about personal finance.
Given the workshop’s newness, Willis hasn’t had an opportunity yet to teach students in middle school and then again in high school.
She’s excited for that first group of repeat students and thinks it will prepare them fully for post-graduate living.