Dose of reality
Event teaches students about budgets, debt
By Scott Bellile
In a class experience that many participants described as “eye-opening,” Hortonville students learned that budgeting is no easy task.
Reality Check provided about 125 Hortonville High School juniors and seniors in Greg Yeager’s personal finance class an opportunity to fend for themselves in a mock living situation on Oct. 4.
Students were assigned an occupation, salary, marital status and number of children. They then went to booths manned by area business professionals who piled on more and more expenses that students had to budget around.
Yeager, business education teacher, said presenting students a lesson on personal finance in a creative manner produces honest discussion the next day where students reveal they don’t understand the complexities of running an adult household budget.
“I wish I would have had this when I was 18 because then I wouldn’t have had to do dumb stuff with my money to learn some of the mistakes that I made,” Yeager said of Reality Check.
The key information Yeager wants his students to take away is how to avoid debt.
Two local professionals who volunteered to show teens how credit card debt can harm them are Wolf River Community Bank employees Jan Young, vice president, and Eric Hopfensperger, a loan officer.
Hopfensperger said if individuals learn how to pay for themselves at a young age, they will more efficiently manage their money in the long run.
He said it was reassuring to see many high school students do not have credit cards yet. But eventually it becomes time to start building credit.
He said a credit card can be a useful tool if a responsible adult goes in on the credit card with the beginner and ensures it is used wisely.
Realtor Tamara Van Krey of Keller Williams in Appleton made students think about their living expenses.
Many flocked to the cheapest apartment rental option. As a real-life landlord, Van Krey challenged their decisions by reminding them that renting puts all the money in the landlord’s pocket, whereas investing in one’s own home builds his or her personal wealth.
“I’m just trying to help them think outside the box and think about their future,” Van Krey said.
Stephanie Siegert, chiropractor with Aascend Chiropractic in Appleton, played car saleswoman. She realized it is easy to convince students to upgrade to a nicer vehicle, although they tend to avoid the priciest ones.
She added it was interesting to observe that the student “fathers” were more conscious about how much room their vehicles have for children than the “mothers.”
Facing the possibility of daycare expenses, many students who visited the table of Cathy McFarlane, a preschool teacher at the Fox West YMCA in Greenville, were quick to pawn their children off on their parents for a day. McFarlane said it is important to realize that bad situations can happen and a child’s grandparent might not be healthy enough or alive to babysit.
Many HHS students were repulsed by the thought of having children, McFarlane said.
“I think that kids are way cooler than a lot of people realize,” McFarlane said. “Once you have your own it kind of changes your perspective, as with a lot of things.”
Numerous students remarked they were going to thank their mothers and fathers for how much their parents have paid for in their lives, Van Krey said.
Yeager said this is not a new phenomenon in Reality Check’s six-year run thus far.
“One of the things that I’ve noticed over the years, I think that the kids maybe have a little more appreciation for Mom and Dad after doing this event,” Yeager said. “Appreciate what Mom and Dad do for you because it’s not always easy.”
HHS student Natalie Sheets said she never realized how expensive homeownership and parenting can be.
“This is a great experience,” HHS student Natalie Sheets said. “More schools should be doing this. It gives you a big perspective on life.”
HHS student Mason Coenen said he also learned a lot.
“It’s different seeing how fast your money goes away when real life happens,” Coenen said. “It’s a nice hit of reality.”