photo courtesy: The Chicago Tribune
In the 1988 movie Big, actor Tom Hanks is a 13-year-old boy who gets mysteriously transformed overnight into a 23-year-old adult body as a result of a wish to a carnival fortune machine. The next morning, Hanks got what he asked for by being bigger, but unfortunately, his family didn’t recognize him, and was forced to go out in the real world to get a job, and make his own way.
I was on the sidelines of that “wish” recently when Clarendon Hills Middle School eighth-graders pretended to be 23 years old and on their first jobs. This was for the social studies financial literacy segment called “Real World.” Realtors, insurance agents and auto sales people were called in to help these “23-year-olds” budget the real cost of doing life on their own.
The students had previously participated in job interviews and deciding career paths, and this day was the culmination of those decisions financially. The reality of what to budget for housing, auto, groceries and other necessities when on the job for the first year is daunting to an eighth-grader. The range of income varied wildly, from a nanny’s salary to an anesthesiologist’s; but for most of the students, it was a wake-up call that living in the Chicago area costs a lot of money.
In making their own way, students were given housing choices to either purchase a home or condo, rent an apartment or stay at home with mom and dad. The reality of these first-year workers is that they couldn’t afford much, so many decided to either rent and split the cost with a roommate or live at home for $250 a month.
It was often easy to chuckle from the sidelines at some of the impulsive decisions to buy their favorite red sports car, only to realize that they were in the red. These decisions eventually got reconciled, and lessons were learned.
There were a lot of lessons learned, including that in life, stuff happens, so you should budget for a rainy day. The rainy day came through the spinning of the wheel of fortune and misfortune. For our students, the wheel gave scenarios that could happen to them, including unexpected medical cost or automobile expenses. A good fortune could happen as well, with an aunt leaving an inheritance or the spinner receiving a sizable gift.
It was a lot of fun speaking to the students and hearing their genuine concern over money and how to manage it. They were eager to learn and to share their ideas with me and each other. It was also evident that our schools feel financial literacy is important, so that our children can prepare for their futures.
At the end of the day, we located that carnival fortune machine, and they wished to have the original wish undone, and return to the 13-year-old bodies, and to the comfort and safety of their own homes.