Real life, real choices mean real money lessons for Hamilton teens

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Hamilton Freshman students learn adult money lessons through class that includes dividing monthly paycheck for life necessities.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Hamilton Freshman Ella Dollenmeyer didn’t start classes Friday morning with a house payment, credit card bills and a baby, but halfway through the school’s “Real Money Real World” class the 15-year-old was facing all those in her new pretend life.

The annual financial literacy class for Hamilton’s Freshman School is designed to bring the reality of adult living, choices and financial obligations into the world of teenagers.

MORE: Hamilton High School bucks career education trend

The interactive spending simulation, which is sponsored by the Ohio State University Extension Office, involved more than 600 student participants and dozens of adult volunteers.

Each students picks their hypothetical career from options that coincide with their current grade point average projected forward. They also pretend to be 27 years old, and the supervising Hamilton teachers have a fertility wheel students spin to find out their number of children.

Their monthly pay, based on their pretend career, then has to be divided into the stark realities familiar to all adults: Car payments, rent or house payments, the costs of raising children, utilities, credit card management, clothing and other real world expenses.

It’s fun, instructive and a bit jarring, said Dollenmeyer.

“It’s been really eye-opening,” she said taking a break from rotating to dozens of tables with interactive exercises and choices set up in the school’s gym.

CLOSER LOOK: Hamilton needs more college grads, city staffer says

“Something that shocked me was finding out how much groceries are going to be, considering I have a kid,” Dollenmeyer said of the pretend scenario she was assigned.

That’s what the program, which is offered in most Ohio counties through their extension offices, is designed to do, said Heather Reister.

“We go into the schools and supply the teachers with three classroom lessons and after they are finished with the classroom lessons we set up a simulation and students go to each group (table) making spending decisions, similar to what you and I make each day,” explained Reister, who is the Butler County Extension Office educator of family and consumer sciences.

Students have to write checks for various expenses at each station, manned by adult volunteer coaches to answer their questions. Then they calculate and review how much money they have left over – or how much they are in debt – at the end of one month.

“When they first come in they are a little unsure of what to expect but once they start the simulation and visiting the different booths … (the students) really like it,” she said.

RELATED: Hamilton’s Big Blue football field now bluer

The extension office is conducting the program at a handful of other Butler County school systems this year.

Joni Copas, spokeswoman for Hamilton Schools, said the district has offered the program for nearly two decades because school officials believe it works in a way that grabs students’ attention.

“It truly is a reality check and they realize what their monthly expenses are compared to their monthly paycheck. Another (revelation) to them is how expensive children are. If they have two or three children and have to pay for child care, a mini-van … at the end some of them say they don’t want any children,” said Copas.

“It really helps students at this age because they are starting to think about adulthood. It’s good for them to learn about priorities compared to their wants,” she said.

Download the free Journal-News app, Butler County’s #1 source for local news