JUST THINKING: Oh, to be an eighth-grader again …

Just Thinking | Julie Stafford

I never thought I’d say this, but yesterday I found myself kind of wishing I could be an eighth grader again – minus the girl drama, the boy issues, the focus on hair, makeup and weight. And, if I’m being honest, the homework.

So why the interest in going back in time? Because I got to take part in the Greenville Middle School eighth grade Reality Store, which is a project organized by both the school and the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. The idea is that kids learn what it’s like to budget a monthly income typical of adults in all kinds of situations.

Without going into a ton of detail, here’s the gist of how the program works. Each year, eighth-graders start weeks in advance by filling out a questionnaire about their skills and interests. This is then paired with up to 40 jobs that would be good potential matches. From that list, the students pick a profession, which is given an average monthly income. By rolling the dice — literally, each student is assigned a family situation — they may be married, divorced; have two, three, four or five kids; be on disability; or in the military.

The whole project culminates into yesterday’s event when each student files through a series of stations where local business folks guide them through key financial considerations and decisions such as how much they would have to pay in taxes, what level of phone service they can afford, whether they are better off buying generic, store brand or premium brand groceries, what kind of child care and transportation they can swing. On and on until they get through all the stops and tally what they have left.

I found myself yesterday wanting to be one of these eighth-graders because they were learning real life skills that have taken me a long time to understand. I’m thinking about all the mistakes I could have avoided such as impulsively buying a pair of jeans or shoes that I didn’t need and didn’t really have money for.

I also could have learned how important it is — even when you’re in a relationship and one of you is more mathematically oriented than the other — to stay plugged in to how much your bills are each month, how taxes are determined, how much you can save by buying generic brands rather than name brands.

I’m sure there were a few kids who left the Reality Store glad one more project was out of the way. But I also know there were a lot whose eyes were opened to the effects their spending habits can have on their bottom line. I sure would have been better off in the long run to have this kind of reality check.

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