About 200 volunteers will be needed to play a variety of simulated roles — from mortgage providers to veterinarians, and utility personnel to child care providers — for the 24th annual Reality Store.

In the Reality Store, local eighth-graders get a taste of what many 26-year-olds experience in real life. That includes earning a paycheck based on their skills and education, and how far their income stretches to cover expenses.

During the exercise, each student goes from one station to the next to discover how much of their income needs to be spent on housing, utilities, insurance, transportation, groceries, clothing, childcare, student loans and other expenses based on their lifestyle choices.

The educational events at Central and Northside middle schools are sponsored by the Bartholomew County Financial Literacy Coalition.

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“It’s a wake-up call,” said Lyn Morgan, a coalition member and Centra Foundation president.

Things get more interesting when the “Fickle Finger of Fate,” as Morgan calls it, gets thrown into the mix. That refers to the occasional unlucky or unfortunate event that costs money.

The only two qualifications necessary for being a Reality Store volunteer is enjoying being around young people and being able to devote a weekday morning or afternoon, said Harriet Armstrong, another coalition member and Purdue Extension educator in Bartholomew County.

“They’ll get a little scenario ahead of time so they’ll understand what they will be doing,” Armstrong said. “Everything they have to do is written out.”

Some adults who played the mock roles in the past likely have a better time than the kids, Morgan said.

For the first time, a follow-up survey will be taken of the young participants this year so organizers can gauge how students were impacted by their experience, Armstong said.

While it’s a simulation, Armstrong cited three examples of random responses received from Hauser eighth-graders last year that indicates the Reality Store does make many young minds think.

  • “I’m broke! I had to sell my house and get a junkie car.”
  • “So as an artist, I’m going to have to get a second job in order to live?”
  • “I’m going to go home and tell my mom, who works two jobs, how much I love her.”

It’s not just youth and inexperience that often leads to young people into making bad financial decisions, Armstrong said. There’s also a hesitancy among many parents to discuss their personal finances with their children.

“If you don’t talk about money, valuable information that might be passed on from one generation to another may not occur,” Armstrong said. “The trial-and-error method of learning is not the most enjoyable.”

The Bartholomew County Financial Literacy Coalition is a volunteer group comprised of individuals from a variety of Columbus-based businesses and organizations that assist and instruct local people on making wise financial choices.

How to volunteer

Volunteers are being sought for the 24th annual Reality Store, which will be held Nov. 10 at Central Middle School and Nov. 17 at Northside Middle School.

Those who can help may choose either a morning shift, from 7:45 to 11:45 a.m., or a later shift, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at either school.

Online volunteer registration can be made at:


Filling out financial aid

Besides the Reality Store, Bartholomew County Financial Literacy Coalition members are urging older students to complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) over the next few months.

The literacy organization will bring financial aid experts to three local high schools to provide information and answering questions during three FAFSA completion nights.

  • Nov. 2 – Hauser
  • Dec. 1 – Columbus East
  • Dec. 14 – Columbus North

Each 90-minute event at all three schools will begin at 5:30 p.m.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.