Students at Lighthouse Preparatory Academy in Jefferson City walked through a simulated version of life Wednesday as they faced decisions about transportation, insurance, health and nutrition, and clothing within a set budget.
Ninth- through 12th-grade students participated in the Financial Reality Fair. The activity is meant to help students think about what it would be like to be a young adult making financial decisions through a simulated exercise with no risk, said teacher Bill Crow.
"What I really like about this, too, not only are we giving (students) some opportunity to see something they may not have seen before, but we've got these community businesses and volunteers that have expertise in these areas," Crow said.
The fair is funded and staffed by local businesses and volunteers, including lead sponsor Mid-America Bank.
After hearing briefings on things like credit and loans, budgeting and taxes, students walked from table to table in the gym to figure out how to budget each aspect of their lives.
Students were given one of 10 scenarios to start that would determine their income, profession and family situation. Some students were single, and others were married. Some had children or pets. Some had high incomes but shaky credit scores. Some had significant savings or credit card balances.
While some items were fixed, such as income and taxes, most items gave students some choices.
At the home furniture table, Lighthouse Preparatory parent Linda Brinkmann showed students high, medium, and low costs for decor and furniture for their homes.
"I love to shop marketplace and garage sales, and I buy and sell things the school needs or doesn't need sometimes," she said.
She showed a variety of new and used furniture. One student was a chemical engineer, and another was a pastor. They ended up on different ends of the price range.
Seaver and Forck CPAs manned the tax table, where they helped students calculate their taxes.
Students got pre-approved for home loans, then visited a housing table to determine what kind of home they could afford.
There was a charity table, where students were encouraged to plan on setting aside some of their income to help others.
There was also a luxury table, filled with items students might be able to get by without, but would certainly like to have.
"I really like the fact that our luxury table, I tell them, 'Try to talk them into buying stuff. Be a salesperson,' because those are items that they can choose to have or not, and they can be enticing, like the latest cell phone or a big screen TV or whatever," Crow said.
While some clung fastidiously to their budgets, a few followed the sales pitch.
"A couple, I've been able to get them to splurge," said Lighthouse alumnus Andrew Crawford, who helped cover the luxury table.
There was also a "reality wheel" which threw students a curve ball, just like life does. It could be receiving a gift card or a broken down car -- things that could positively or negatively impact one's monthly budget.
Another table was the career counseling and final check table -- the last stop for students.
Students could also visit the table with questions about their assigned career, such as whether they needed to obtain certification or a degree, said school academic adviser Jenni Ford.
Alongside Ford, Staff Sergeant Charles Davis, a recruiter for the Missouri National Guard, helped students understand "that you can do more than one thing at a time, and that part-time service in the National Guard can actually enhance your benefits in your civilian as well as your civilian career."
That can provide help with pay, health insurance, life insurance and student loans.
When all was said and done, students couldn't exceed their budget. If they did, they'd need to revisit a few tables to make a few different choices.
"That's why I said, 'Do not use a pen. You've got to use a pencil, because you're probably going to have to make some changes," Crow said.