Dose of reality

Published 11:11 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2011

While Lacara Miles, left, explains the cost of childcare, Kelsey O’Brien marks the expense in her checkbook register to ensure she has the money to afford it Wednesday at the Nansemond River High School Reality Fair, which aims to help students learn good spending habits.

Event teaches students about personal finance

As a medical lab technician with 3-year-old twins, Stephanye Williams has to keep a constant eye on her money.

She and her husband have to juggle expenses — mortgage, food, utilities, insurance, car loan — to make sure they have money to put away at the end of the month.

They were doing just fine until they decided to put the twins into daycare and couldn’t afford the $90-a-month bill.

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“I had to get a part-time job because I’m broke,” she said.

Seeing the negative number at the bottom of her check register was a dose of reality, Williams said, and she hopes it never happens to her in real life.

Luckily, Williams’ financial woes were just part of an exercise for seniors at Nansemond River High School’s second Reality Fair, presented by Bronco Federal Credit Union and Paul D. Camp Community College on Wednesday.

During their government classes, the students met at the gym and were assigned new lives that covered career, marital status, annual income, children and other things that affect financial situations in real life.

Then they visited different tables where they could buy things to improve their lives, such as cars, homes and insurance.

Esther Harrell, the Paul D. Camp Community College career coach at Nansemond River, said the exercise is designed to teach students how to make smart financial decisions and show them the effects of bad decisions.

“Their lifestyle determines what they can use,” she said. “They are running out of money, and they realize it. They might have to come back and sell their car or change their housing.”

Williams said she had no idea how difficult it would be to keep up with her expenses.

“All this stuff costs more than it would seem,” she said.

In addition to the usual stops to buy a house or car, the students also could choose to do unconventional things with their money, like playing the lottery, but there was one table that was even more of a gamble.

Two students, Marcus Troupe and Kyle Green, were chosen by their classmates to run what they called “The Table of Fate,” an unlabeled station where students could get a dose of life’s unexpected surprises — both good and bad.

When a student stepped up to their booth, Troupe and Green would eye the student’s finances to see how he or she was managing his or her money.

If they had been responsible with paychecks, making sure bills were paid, driving a mid-range car and keeping up with insurance, the Table of Fate might reward the student with a bonus from work.

But if a student spent all his money on a Cadillac Escalade and a mansion and couldn’t afford insurance after those expenses, the Table of Fate might have a tree fall on the shiny new ride.

“It’s showing them how spontaneous and random life can be and the importance of having yourself protected,” Troupe said.

“You can reap the benefits or suffer the fate,” Green said.

Government teacher Brian Collins, who used to be a financial adviser, said he hoped the Reality Fair taught students to be financially responsible and prepared for anything.

“The only person looking out for you is you,” he told the students at the conclusion of the fair. “Don’t count on the government or anyone else.”

“They more than ever need to learn good investment habits,” he said. “The whole idea is to help them understand and create a balance of investments and put as much money as they can away and watch it grow. Then, they will be believers.”