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OUR VIEW: Giving kids a good base for self sufficiency

THE ISSUE: Developing Mad City budgeting skills
OUR VIEW: Consumer education programs help teach practical life lessons

At Seneca High School it’s the Reality Store. At Streator High it’s Mad City Money. Other schools have similar events with an identical goal: giving teenagers an idea of the cost of living on their own.

In most of these setups, students are given a dollar amount of take-home pay, then tasked with spending it on things like housing, utilities, transportation, insurance, groceries, entertainment and clothing. As they make choices — rent a small apartment or buy a medium-sized home; lease a sports car or take out a loan on a fuel-efficient compact — they start to see how all of the pieces of an individual budget come together.

These events, whether a component of a semester-long course or more akin to an in-school field trip, serve as the perfect counterbalance to the student who gets frustrated at calculating the area of a rhombus or memorizing the atomic weight of cobalt and cries, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?!?”

Both the Seneca and Streator programs are tailored for sophomores. That seems the perfect time to drop this type of real world experiment, right at the age students are learning to drive, thinking about getting a job, perhaps acquiring a car and beginning to get serious about life after high school.

Whether a student is headed for four-year college, staying home to attend a two-year school, the military or directly into the work force — all respectable paths — their post-high school life will carry an expectation of basic personal financial management. And sure, it’s fun to take a class that involves investing fake money in a real company to see how the stock market works, that lesson is more about how the macro economy works than what it takes to be self sufficient.

Many parents try to impart this wisdom to their children to varying degrees of success. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard an elder intone: “Children have to learn the value of a dollar.” (Which, it must be said, is a much more useful concept than “Back in my day you could get a Coke for a nickel!”) But people, especially young people, learn things in different ways and many respond better to lessons that don’t come from a family member.

That’s why it’s so encouraging to see all the adults partnering with the schools to teach these concepts. Especially interesting this year was Mike Lucas, who was in charge of giving Streator students a car sales pitch. He laid it on thick in hopes of getting the kids to push back and bargain, but many simply took his first offer and didn’t realize the bottom line impact until later.

Programs like these are part of what people have in mind when repeating the “it takes a village to raise a child” maxim. They bring experienced adults into the schools to impart their wisdom to young people, enhancing the typical daily curriculum and ideally building a strong foundation for the generation that soon will be out on its own, either contributing directly to their hometown community or representing it wherever life happens to lead.

Further, they reinforce the notion that high school is more than just the semester marks on a report card, more than just a grade-point average, more than building a resume for college applications. Every fall wide-eyed freshmen enter, every spring seniors graduate to enter some aspect of adulthood.

We salute the schools that run these programs, as well as the financial institutions and volunteers that make them possible. Our students must be prepared not just to fill out test bubbles and write formulaic essays, but to think for themselves and live responsibly. It’s good to know how many adults take that mission seriously.

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