During a role-playing exercise, 13-year-old Becca Rossiter learned she was assigned to be a married military officer earning just $1,580 a month.
"I looked at [my income] and I’m like, ‘Crap,’ because I’m going to have to budget a ton," Rossiter said. "The hardest part is budgeting."
The eighth-grader was one of 60 students from North Star Academy in Bluffdale who recently participated in a personal finance workshop sponsored by Junior Achievement, an organization dedicated to teaching students about the world of money.
Making budgeting fun and starting a discussion about life’s fiscal realities are the goals for Utah’s organized financial literacy efforts.
Nearly 10,000 students this year attended a budgeting bootcamp at JA City, an elaborate mini-Main Street nestled on the fourth floor above the Discovery Gateway children’s museum. More than 300 members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Valley spent this school year taking field trips, participating in a teen investment program and engaging in an interactive "Reality Town" exercise.
The hands-on activities and detailed budgeting scenarios are all designed to get young people thinking about their financial futures, said Christy Tribe, executive vice president and chief development officer of Junior Achievement of Utah.
"We help students understand why they’re learning what they’re learning," Tribe said. "There’s a relevancy."
Liz Kinne, development director at Boys & Girls Clubs of South Valley, said the activities help prepare students for Utah’s required high school financial literacy course. After learning how to create a budget and save for college, 30 percent of students in Boys & Girls Club’s Money Matters program showed improvement on financial literacy tests given after the exercises.
"We’re working hard to make sure they’re prepared when they go into the real world," she said.
Students participating in the JA exercise prepare in the classroom for four weeks, learning about balancing checkbooks and calculating interest rates. Still, North Star Academy math teacher Doris Haslem said the day-long activity at JA City is an eye-opener.
"This one boy said to me [about his scenario], ‘I’m poor, I can’t even buy my sack lunch.’ I told him, ‘Welcome to my world,’ " Haslem said. "This will really give them a taste for what life is all about and maybe it will motivate them to pursue a better career or take education more seriously."
North Star student Rossiter certainly felt the squeeze when she was working on her budget worksheet.
"I had to cut out home improvements and furniture and cable and entertainment," Rossiter said. "It gives you a sense of what life is like."
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