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Teenagers learn budgeting during Youth Services career workshop

By Tiffeny Hurtado
thurtado@decaturdaily.com · 340-2440

Local teenagers learned how hard it is to balance a budget in the “real world” at the Decatur Youth Services Summer Career Workshop on Thursday.

The workshop held a simulation, Welcome to the Real World, to train teens ages 14 and 15 how to manage their money when they get a career.

Fifty-seven teens showed up to navigate the challenges of maintaining a balanced budget, and 12 volunteers helped them through the stations and making wise decisions with their checkbooks.

“I think this is a great opportunity to teach these kids how to be good stewards with their money,” said Morris Garner with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“They see what it’s like to be a grown-up for a day.

Teens went through stations that were set up so they had to use the salary from their chosen occupation to pay taxes, open a bank account, and buy a house and a car.

They also had to budget their salaries to pay for insurance, utilities, groceries, clothing and entertainment.

At the end, they had to choose from the “deck of chance,” which gave them real-life challenges and surprises that they had to fit into their budgets.

Some drew luckier cards than others, and the chances varied from having to pay a mechanic to fix a car or having someone pay back a loan.

“I hope they take away from this that this is what the real world is like,” said Sallie Massey, a volunteer who has been working with youths for 15 years.

“It’s not just play; there’s something to be learned here.”

Anika Evans, 14, who will attend Decatur High in the fall, plans on being a historian when she gets older but chose to be a lawyer for simulation.

“My mother has tried to teach me some things about keeping a budget, but this is different because I actually have to pay these expenses out of my own salary,” she said. “I see what the actual costs of things that I have to pay for.”

Evans’ salary as a lawyer in the simulation was $4,250 a month, and after all the expenses were paid, she had $1,117 left.

“This really opened my eyes to see what my parents go through every month.”

Others weren’t so lucky.

Herman Stegall ended up in the “homeless shelter” because he ran out of money before finishing the simulation.

“I was a taxi driver, and I didn’t even make it past getting my house and car,” he said.

Stegall was left with only $38 and couldn’t afford insurance for his car or home. He had to sit in the shelter while others went on paying their bills.

“This is not a good experience being stuck without any money,” he said with a frown.

Yvette Wilson is an Urban Regional Extension Agent, and she said Real World is set up so that teens pretended they are a 25-year-old who is new to the city and with no family or friends to help them if they get into financial trouble.

“They are on their own, and they have to take care of themselves just like in real life,” she said. “This helps them learn to budget their salaries instead of blowing it on the luxuries.”

First to make it

Alexia Owens, 15, attends East Lawrence High School and was the first participant to make it through the Real World.

“I still had $1,800 at the end, but at the ‘deck of chance,’ my dog got sick, and I had to pay $100 to the vet,” she said.

“I don’t even remember buying a dog.”

Rosalie Lane of the Extension Urban Affairs and Non-traditional Programs Unit at Alabama A&M University adapted the simulation from a program at The University of Illinois.

“This has been used in colleges and with the Housing Authority, and many have said that if they had known the things these kids are learning now, they would be in much better shape financially,” Lane said.

Lane has been using the program for 10 years and estimates that about 12,000 people have gone through it.

At the end of the simulation, the volunteers and coordinators emphasized the lessons learned from going through the Real World.

“That check does not last long, and the only way to make it last is by making good decisions about what you do with it,” said Wilson.

Those interested in using Welcome to the Real World can contact Wilson at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System Office in Hartselle at 773-2549.

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