Tahlequah Daily Press

January 30, 2013

The school of life

Local fourth-graders are learning about life’s monetary ups and downs by participating in an Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service program.

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Armed with career choices, salaries and checkbooks, a group of fourth-graders on Tuesday learned how much it costs to live in the modern age.

The students, members of Heritage Elementary School’s Boys & Girls Club, are participating in “Welcome to the Real World,” a lifestyle and budgeting program provided by Heather Winn, Extension educator, family and consumer sciences for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County.

Throughout the five-week program, the youth are exploring career opportunities, learning about the salaries those choices will earn them, and ultimately how to go out in the world and make lives for themselves.

“This is the first time I’ve had a group this young,” said Winn. “I’ve taught 4-H’ers, day campers and two classes of Tahlequah High School senior girls. One of the senior girls told me she wished she’d had the information when she was a freshman.”

In previous sessions, the youngsters had made career choices ranging from housekeeper to physician’s assistants, along with pay commensurate for the career choice. Those salaries were entered into checkbook registers, and the kids learned how to write checks to pay bills.

“Some wanted to be doctors, but they’re starting this exercise at age 25,” said Winn. “I told them they didn’t have enough time to become a doctor by age 25, so we opted for physician’s assistant.”

On Tuesday, with their first deposits logged in their check registers, the youth were tasked with obtaining housing and transportation, and paying for utilities, insurance, groceries and entertainment.

“Now remember, if you run out of money, [Assistant] Jody [Vick] and I will be bankers willing to make you a loan,” said Winn. “We’ll be willing to loan you $1,000, but you’ll only get $900, because we’ll charge you a 10 percent finance charge. You’ll also be responsible for paying that loan back, along with making your other payments.”

The fear of running out of money took hold with some of the kids early on.

“Will I have money left if I get this house?” asked one girl.

Others quickly realized career choices can make all the difference in the world when it comes to earning more money.

“I’m for sure going to be a doctor,” said Sloan French.

Housing choices included urban or suburban setting; buying or renting; and house or apartment. Once housing was established, the kids moved on to choosing a vehicle. Those options included a sports car, a small truck, an SUV, a hybrid sedan, a regular sedan or a compact car.

“We also have a chance card for each of you,” said Winn. “Now, that could be that you receive a birthday card with $20 in it, or it could be you have a flat tire you have to pay for. Those are things in life you just can’t plan.”

Most of the kids quickly selected their housing, writing out their first checks to Real World Real Estate, and moved on to picking a car. Some fourth-graders ran out of money making this decision.

“If I get the sports car, I’ll have one dollar left,” said one boy. “Yeah, I think I’m going to do that.”

B&GC staffer Elijah Kingfisher, who was helping students, pointed out there were several more things to pay for after buying the car – including insurance, groceries, utilities and entertainment.

“I’ll just get money from my parents,” said the boy.

Another student, a girl, was in the same predicament: She decided to purchase the sports car, and only had a dollar left for her other expenses.

“I think I’ll just go get a loan,” she said.

Winn reminded the youngster that she’d be happy to loan her the money, but she’d have to pay it back.

Winn firmly believes money management is one of the most important life skills a person can learn.

“And the school of hard knocks can be really expensive,” said Winn. “Even though a young person may hold a job and earn money, they often lack the skills to make the lifestyle choices necessary for successful money management.”

Learn more

For more information or to schedule an educational program locally about financial management, contact Heather Winn at (918) 456-6163.