Local eighth-grade students learned about personal finance as part of a community program promoting financial literacy.

Students participated in the Reality Store, hosted by the Bartholomew County Financial Literacy Coalition at Central Middle School to teach them how to manage a monthly income.

The effort, now in its 25th year, is a good dose of reality meant to prepare them for the future, said Brittany Debolt, a coalition member who volunteered at the event and works as a business banker at Salin Bank.

The program initially was developed by the Business & Professional Women of Indiana in 1991 and was presented to Columbus students in 1992, according to the coalition. The Reality Store program was presented by the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisers-Columbus from 2006 until 2013 when the coalition took it over.

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In addition to Central students, eighth-graders from Hauser Jr./Sr. High School, Columbus Christian, Whitecreek Lutheran and St. Peter’s Lutheran schools also participated.

As part of the Reality Store, students complete a career inventory and select a prospective career based on their grade-point average before the event. The average salary for different positions in fields such as engineering, law enforcement, teaching and other areas was determined using salaries.com and each salary was specifically modified for the Columbus market, Debolt said.

Each student then opened pretend checking accounts with a designated monthly salary, and then moved among 18 different booths that deducted housing, utilities, student loans and other expenses, said Ashley Kimbrell, eighth-grade counselor at Central. Students who participated were given the option of being single or married.

“Often at this age, kids have no concept of how much things cost or how much their mom and dad pay just to maintain their basic needs — food, clothing, shelter, things like that — so it’s an eye-opener for a lot of the kids to participate in that,” Kimbrell said. Their academic achievements will have an effect on what college they want to attend after high school, she said.

For Central eighth-grade student Nicole Warfield, the Reality Store helped her gain a better understanding of all the expenses adults pay.

Warfield, who had chosen a career as an esthetician, was given a monthly salary of $4,250 based on an annual salary of $51,000. However, Warfield said she’s already learned how to manage a checkbook at home and tries to save as much money as possible.

She approached the Reality Store by teaming up with her fellow classmate Michael Martinez as a way to save expenses.

She quickly learned that some expenses are far more than anticipated, after the two began calculating how much child care would cost, Martinez said.

“We decided to partner up and be married for a little bit and figure things out,” Martinez said. “It was very shocking at first, but I’m glad I don’t have kids because that’s a lot to take care of.”

While Warfield said she’s already received some perspective on money at home from her own family, she said the program is a good teaching tool for those who haven’t had the opportunity to learn about finances.

High school students helped prepare eighth-graders with a brief overview of the Reality Store. Liz Kroger, a Columbus East senior, was among four students from the district’s C4 leadership team volunteering at the event.

She now works at the Otter Creek Golf Course and said she tries to be smart about how she spends her money.

“Getting a job helps you understand monetary value,” Kroger said. “Whenever I was in eighth grade, I had no clue.”

Cassandra Claycamp, also an East senior, said she hoped students who participated in the program were able to take away a valuable lesson.

“You can’t always buy what you want because money has value and I don’t think they understand that,” she said.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com