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Developing Mad City budgeting skills

Streator students learn in interactive money lesson

Streator High School students visit a Mad City Money station Tuesday during a simulation of living on a monthly budget. Students were given a monthly income and tasked with selecting transportation, housing, necessities and entertainment within their financial means.
Streator High School students visit a Mad City Money station Tuesday during a simulation of living on a monthly budget. Students were given a monthly income and tasked with selecting transportation, housing, necessities and entertainment within their financial means.

Streator High School student Skylar Bedeker didn’t realize how much certain necessary items cost, until Tuesday.

The sophomore was one of many consumer education students at the high school who participated in Mad City Money, an interactive lesson in which students traveled station to station in the commons area spending from an assigned budget.

The interactive lesson was brought to the school by SOCU with community volunteers manning each station.

Bedeker had to fork over more than $1,000 of her $4,122 hypothetical monthly income for housing and utilities — an expenditure that got her attention.

“It showed me how to spend money a lot better than I am,” Bedeker said of the exercise. “Housing and utilities were the biggest surprise. I picked a medium-sized home and it still cost a lot.”

To start the lesson, each student was given a folder that dealt them a career, a monthly salary, their spouse’s monthly salary, whether they had children, and obligations, such as student loan payments, medical insurance co-pays or credit card debt.

Students were required to stop at each station, representing living costs, transportation costs, food, child care (some students were assigned multiple children), clothing, shopping, home necessities and recreation.

Buying a car was a special challenge, because students were met with a sales pitch.

“This is a deal I’ve been doing all day, you’ll want this one,” said Mike Lucas, who manned the auto sales station, to one student, filling out the student’s bill before getting their OK. The startled student, like many others Tuesday, accepted the sales pitch without haggling.

Jordan Harcharik, training specialist at SOCU and organizer of Tuesday’s lesson, said the sales pitch was by design.

“It’s so important for students to get a taste of everyday budgeting, even for a couple of hours,” Harcharik said. “Pushy salesmen are part of what they’ll experience.”

A final station called the “fickle finger of fate” had students draw a random item from a box to demonstrate how unpredictable budgeting can be. One student drew a $600 expenditure, because they had to travel out of town for a relative’s funeral. Another student got stuck with a $300 medical bill when their child was stung by a bee.

Some students, such as Ian Kurdziolek, were fortunate enough to get a windfall at the “fate” station.

“I ended up with a lot of money left over,” said the sophomore, who was a carpenter with a dual income of $4,300 a month. “I just got the stuff I wanted and tried to make smart decisions with a safety net for emergencies.”

Students were required to spend down their cash to less than $100 or borrow from the credit union if they ended up with a negative balance. Most students stayed in the black, dumping their money at the end of the month into savings or a retirement plan.

Sophomore Riley McCurdy started with a $700 credit card debt and an income of $4,734 per month. He said his philosophy was to keep his imaginary family happy.

“What I took from it is that if you spend money wisely, you can live a solid life,” he said. “We were forced to buy certain items and it kept us on a budget.”

Consumer education instructor Kirk Melody said the activity helps reinforce the high school’s curriculum.

“We talk a lot about budgeting, and this simulation pulls it all together in a realistic way for our students to talk about,” Melody said. “SOCU does a great job of pulling it all together for us.”

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