KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Eighth graders in the Kingman Unified School District got an eye-opening reality check recently at the district's seventh Annual Reality Store, which teaches students about the financial facts of life.
A few weeks before the Reality Store, the students draw for a career, a spouse, a salary and their education level, said Kim Robbins, the student counselor for White Cliffs Middle School. The students also learn how to balance a checking account registry in their math classes.
On Reality Store day, the first stop for students is the bank, where taxes are taken out of their account, Robbins said.
"That's usually their first shock," she said. Then they have to figure out how to purchase housing, transportation, insurance, groceries, clothing, utilities and childcare.
"Some stuff is really expensive. You have to save up for things," said Austin McMurray, a student who started off with a monthly salary of $5,583 and ended up with $692 in savings at the end.
Becky Churchill, one of the adult volunteers at the event, agreed with McMurray. She was selling the students clothing and groceries.
"It's always amusing to see the shock on their face when they realize how much things cost," she said.
The students also have to navigate salesmen such as Scott Kern, a volunteer from Kingman Regional Medical Center who was trying to entice students into buying flat screen TVs, iPods, cable TV, Internet service and video games.
"Come on, my wife's not going to be able to take that vacation to Hawaii I promised her if I don't get the commission on this," Kern said, as he tried to wheedle one student into buying a $500 flat screen TV.
"Doing this is always a blast. It teaches the kids about disposable income and how salesmen work," he said. "I had one student who told me she didn't need to buy a TV. She had WiFi. She could watch it online. I asked what she was watching it on. 'I'm watching it on my...oh,' she said."
Students also had to navigate some of life's unexpected moments at the "mail" and "life's lottery" tables. At the mail table, students pulled a letter out of a mailbox and found out if they got an unexpected bill or a bonus check. They then rolled dice to see how much they had to pay or how big a bonus they received.
At the life's lottery table, students pulled a ball out of a bin and matched the number to a chart. The chart listed a variety of good and bad things that sometimes crop up in life, such as the trip to the emergency room for a sprained ankle that Garrett Newberry drew. Luckily, he had health insurance, so he only had to pay $76.
"It's pretty accurate," said Dawn Brannies, a volunteer at the event from Kingman's Premier Properties.
"Some very unexpected things can happen to you," said student Garrett Martin, who had to buy a new refrigerator.
Waiting for students at the end of the line of tables filled with volunteers was the Kingman Meth Coalitions' "Life's Unexpected" wheel, which offered more of life's little unexpected moments, such as root canals, medical bills, paycheck bonuses and pay raises. It also offered the chance for a student to land on a space marked "meth addict." Students unlucky enough to have the wheel stop on that spot lost all of their money and had to start over, Robbins said.
Students who ran out of money during the event visited the credit counselor's table, she said. Just like in real life, some had to take a second job to make ends meet.
"Stuff gets pricey, especially utilities and electronics," said student Zachary Matthes, who lost his job but avoided the credit counselors because his "wife" was a doctor and her salary kept him afloat.
Students are also encouraged to think for themselves and try to figure a way out of their dilemmas.
"We don't try to lead them in one direction or another," Robbins said.
Volunteer Toni Swatz said she watched as one student, who found herself with $17 left in her account, asked her friend if she could live with her.
"The one girl who ran out of money was a single parent with one child and the other girl was married with two children," Swatz said. "We told them, 'Oh honey, that isn't going to last more than two months.'"
The "single parent" told Swatz, "That's okay. That's just long enough for me to get back on my feet."