Bit by bit, their monthly income will start disappearing.

Student loans will have to be paid. So will the rent or a mortgage, a car payment and gasoline. If they have kids, daycare costs will add up.

Eighth-grade students at Greenwood Community Middle School are preparing for their annual reality store — where they get a real life look at what expenses they will face as adults and where the money will come from to pay the bills.

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For at least 15 years, students at the middle school have gone through the reality store as part of financial literacy and essential life skills curriculum. They fast forward about 15 years in their life and must pay their bills as if they are late 20s adults going to work and making ends meet.

They choose a job based on their grade-point average, with a salary that would reflect that job. They draw to see whether they are married and have kids and then must build their life and see what real life might be like.

“We feel like it is a very important lesson for the students to have,” counselor Lhea Hesler said.

Every eighth-grade student must visit every life booth. They go to the bank to deposit their paycheck, where they are offered a savings options. They pay their mortgage or rent and pick out a car and see if they can figure out the car payments. They then must pay for student loans and child care, if they have children.

The idea is for the students to get through every booth and have money left over, Hesler said.

If they run short, they have to pull from savings or take on a second job, she said.

“They think, ‘Wow, $30,000 is rich,” she said. “They have to be realistic with what their income is.”

Most students realize that a house and car cost money, applied skills teacher Tami Vest said.

But they don’t realize how much money. And they don’t always know about the extras that can add up, such as paying for insurance for a house and car or paying for cable or electricity, she said.

“We didn’t know some of those things existed,” said Hayley Martin, a junior at Greenwood Community High School.

The experience can take some kids by surprise, Hesler said.

“They have said ‘I know now why Mom couldn’t afford those sneakers for me last month,” she said.

Going through the reality store changes the perceptions of some students, said Ella Garrison, a junior at Greenwood Community High School.

Most students don’t know what their household budget is or how to begin paying bills, she said. The store changes that for them.

“It made me realize how to spend money and how fast (bills) collect,” she said. “That is not something an eighth grader sees on a daily basis.”

Preparation for the store starts weeks in advance in Vest’s applied skills classes. Students learn what a mortgage is, how to write a check and other skills that they will need, Vest said.

“They are surprised sometimes on how difficult it can be to make ends meet,” she said. “Their parents make ends meet for them.”

Part of why the school plans a reality store each year is to make students aware of how their grades now might affect their life later, Hesler said.

A student that has a below 2.0 grade-point average will have to choose jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree or technical degree. The income they have in the reality store might give them a glimpse of what their life could be if they don’t do better in school, she said.

“(Some) have to choose a job they didn’t like at all,” Hesler said. “That’s real life.”

Magen Kritsch is an editorial assistant at the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2770.