Life is expensive, and staying within a budget can sometimes be tricky. Just ask the juniors and seniors at Plainview High School. They were given a taste of adulthood on Wednesday courtesy of a new event called Reality Check.
Event cofounder Abi Holland explained the concept of the event.
“Reality Check is a project where we’re teaching the students how to work within a budget,” Holland said. “They’re randomly assigned a job with a salary, told if they’re married or single and if they have any kids. From there they are responsible for finding housing, transportation and utilities while living within their monthly salary.”
The program was split into two identical sessions with the juniors participating in the morning and the seniors in the afternoon. Both began with students visiting the bank booth where they received a sheet outlining their occupation and take home pay as well as informing them of their marital and parental status. With this information in hand, they then visited a series of different booths associated with various expenses.
The booth categories were: childcare and grocery, clothing/personal care and entertainment, communications and utilities, medical, housing and furniture, transportation and tag agent, insurance, and charitable contributions. A final booth was labeled chance. Here students were given a card that represented either a surprise windfall such as a winning scratch off ticket or unexpected expense such as a refrigerator going out.
Each of the booths offered a wide range of options and students needed to make choices within their budgets. For example, the transportation booth offered two new vehicles and two used vehicles for students to select. The housing booth offered two homes to purchase and a house or apartment to rent.
Holland said almost 50 volunteers came out to help run the various booths and many were staffed by professionals within their field.
“Sullivan Insurance Agency was gracious enough to send some of their people out to work the insurance booth,” Holland said. “So they were able to explain to the kids exactly why they need things like health and dental insurance.”
Two police officers, a representative from the Ardmore Police Department and a representative from the Carter County Sheriff’s Department, were also in attendance to add another dose of reality. These officers were handing out various “violations” such as disturbing the peace, texting and driving, and parking illegally. The fines imposed ranged from $10 to $100 and had to be paid out of the monthly budget.
The goal of Reality Check was for the students to go to each booth, make all of their necessary payments, and remain in the black for the month. Some failed and some succeeded, but everyone received a wake up call about money management.
Junior Lauren Austin said the event opened her eyes to what life will be like as an adult.
“I’m surprised at just how much things like insurance can vary depending on whether or not you have a family,” Austin said. “I didn’t know a lot about how insurance worked so I learned quite a bit today.”
Austin ended up having money left in the bank at the end of the month, and she enjoyed seeing how much she spent and how much she saved. Her strategy was to always choose the least expensive option because her fact sheet told her she was single with no children.
Senior Marla Williams said she was shocked by how expensive things are and how quickly expenses add up.
“Finding out how expensive groceries are was definitely the most shocking, especially if you’re married and have a kid,” Williams said. “Now I kind of see things from my mom’s point of view and the difference between providing for myself and getting one day of fast food versus her getting groceries to last an entire month for a family.”
Senior Brock Parham said he was assigned the occupation of restaurant owner with a wife and child. He noted that children are especially expensive.
“I didn’t realize how much everything costs,” Parham said. “Everything was just a little more expensive than I thought, and having a kid is so expensive — the clothing, the healthcare, the insurance. I didn’t realize how much insurance costs.“
All three students said they enjoyed themselves and learned quite a bit.
“I thought it was a really good event, and I’m glad that we had it,” Parham said. “It was really impactful and really eye opening for all of us juniors and seniors that got to participate.”
Holland said they plan on bringing Reality Check back next year and would like to include more area schools in the future.
“In the coming years we’re hoping to add Ardmore, Dickson and Lone Grove and ultimately to expand it to Southern Oklahoma,” Holland said. “We don’t want to limit it to just Carter County because we’d like to include cities like Marietta, Madill, Davis and Sulphur, too.”