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Program exposes the challenges of budgeting

Jan. 31, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Huntington Middle School students got a math lesson on Wednesday about the hard facts of financial life.

Delivering it was the "Get a Life" program, which was conducted at Milton Middle the past three years before being introduced this year at Huntington Middle.

To expose students to the financial decisions they will face as adults, the program assigns students a career and its correlating salary. They also are assigned a family status, which ranges from single to married with multiple children.

Then they visit stations which represent expenses a typical adult must deal with each month, such as housing, car payments and insurance.

"They are required to budget for having car payments, cellphone and groceries," said Shannon Murray, a secondary instructional coach with Cabell County Schools. "It's been so successful that one of the business teachers at Cabell Midland (High School) has decided to run it for her students."

Students appeared to enjoy the excitement of having thousands of dollars each month in income, but they found that it doesn't last long. Some found themselves in the hole rather quickly after buying extravagant cars and big houses.

Seventh-grade student Alyssa Davis tried to be conservative but still fell short. While she fit groceries into her budget, she was unable to buy a refrigerator to store the food or a stove with which to cook it.

Some students also were met by the "grim reaper," who walked around and handed students cards that represented life's unexpected costs. That ranged from adopting a kitten and all the expenses of shots, food and visits to the veterinarian to the medical bills after having a heart attack.

Darren DeMattie, the director of the Tri-State Fire Academy, helped out by volunteering at the auto dealer booth. As a former car salesman, he used his tactics to entice students to purchase luxury vehicles many found later they couldn't afford.

"I want (the kids) to know the salesmen are looking out for themselves," DeMattie said.

The biggest lesson learned was expressed by seventh-grader Tyler Cunningham. He said the workshop helped him realize his parents don't have an infinite amount of money to spend on all the things he wants.

"We're always wanting them to buy stuff and they do, but we don't realize how it affects the budget," he said. "I want to tell my parents how much I appreciate how hard they work for us."

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