Cartersville students get dose of ‘Reality’
by Jon Gargis
Nov 17, 2010 | 2247 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Michelle Neal tells Sammy Philliber what he needs to budget for the childcare his four children will require. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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It's been said the only certain things in life are death and taxes. But students at Cartersville High on Tuesday learned they will most certainly have expenses on top of taxes they'll have to cover to make it in the real world.

The school held for its career tech students the "Reality Store," a project which had pupils first picking a career, then visiting tables at which they learned how much of their career's income they would have to spend on necessities -- ranging from housing, utilities, groceries, clothing, furniture, transportation and more -- as well as extras such as entertainment and nonprofit donations. One table event threw participants some of "life's unexpected events," which included surprise expenses incurred from a flooded basement, injured pet or needed car repairs, and positive experiences of an income tax refund or small lottery win.

"I believe they are somewhat shocked at the costs of some things such as, first of all, the taxes, insurance and their choices of transportation," CHS Counselor Phyllis Wood said. "I think those are unexpected -- they come in with high expectations, and then they have to face reality."

Tuesday's event, which was staffed by school employees and volunteers, was funded with the help of a $3,700 grant awarded to Cartersville High by the Georgia Appalachian Center for Higher Education, an organization with the mission of increasing graduation and post-secondary enrollment and completion rates in the state's 37 Appalachian counties.

"I think [Reality Store] impacts their career choice, which is the purpose of this -- for us to encourage them to go to post-secondary school. Maybe this will help them realize education is important in being able to obtain the career of their choice, one that will provide for them financially to help them meet their goals," Wood said, adding that the project may also impact students' choice of classes and encourage them to make better grades so they can one day enter their college of choice.

CHS junior Zach Ferguson went over his budget during Tuesday's exercise, which he said helped him realize that one should not jump into financial decisions too quickly.

"I was mak  ing $10,000 a month, and a lot of it shot down pretty quickly with Social Security and all the taxes, more than half," said Ferguson, who said the career he chose was that of a funeral director. "That's something I've always wanted to do since when I was little.

"[I went over budget] because of the insurance and my car choice. That was the tw  o main things," he added. "If I could just get those down, my car choice a little bit down, I think I'd be alright and good to go. I'll have three kids, and I did choose the Caravan. I also chose the real man's car, which is the Ford F150. I'm going to have to go back and trade out the F150 for another car."

John Agnew, assistant vice president, branch manager and lending officer with Renasant Bank, was one volunteer who helped run Tuesday's exercise. He ran the "Canes Bank & Trust" table, where students totaled all their debts and subtracted those expenses from their income to see how much remained that could be put into a savings account.

Agnew said he saw several students figure out that they needed to make different spending decisions in order to make their finances balance.

"What we're trying to challenge them to do is to look at all their expenditures and then even with their monthly debts, to look at the importance of putting back at least 10 percent of that monthly income to try to provide them some support in the event of unexpected expenses or emergencies, medical costs -- it could be any number of things that they don't plan for that are variables in their budget," Agnew said. "So the 10 percent coming off their salary monthly, if they don't have anything that hits them over a number of months, then they have a pretty good-sized nest egg that they can reach back for only for emergency purposes. In the real world, it's tough to save that money, that 10 percent on the actual pay folks are getting, but it's a great practice.

"The big thing is they're finding how much money they have left based on their projected income, and then a few of them have found that they just don't have any money to save, so they've surprised me, they're saying they have to go back and readjust their budget," he added. "So they recognize the fact that, 'If I don't have any money to save, I've got to cut some place, because that's the important part of the budget.' They may have to go back and readjust entertainment, go back and readjust their spending on their furniture or their homes, so they're having to readjust where they can."

Sophomore Daphanie Johnson said the cost of clothing was probably the biggest "sticker shock" she received Tuesday.

"Each piece was not cheap. It was more than I regularly see when I go to the store myself -- I guess I don't really think about certain things when I go to stores. And insurance, too, was really steep," said Johnson, who added that she plans to study to become a veterinarian.

For freshman Carter Bishop, Tuesday's lessons will be important in his years beyond high school as he pursues a law career, but he said the exercise helped him realize something about his current life.

"I learned how much money my parents spend every month, and how much money that I really need to start saving," he said. "It really makes you think about and appreciate what your parents do for you. It shows me that living in luxury is not always the way to go, and sometimes you have to not do what you want to do just so you can be able to make it.

"I thought I'd be able to do what I wanted with [a lawyer's] income, but things add up and things don't always go as planned, and you have to be ready for it," Bishop added. "I'm definitely sticking with the career I chose, because I love it and it's a good income. And I think if I just live right, then I'll save money and I'll be good."

The Reality Store is just one project being funded by the GACHE grant. The financial assistance also went toward a newsletter, sent to the high school's entire junior class, that explained all the steps a student should complete in order to make it to college. The final grant-funded project, set for next semester, will be a job interview fair for senior class members that will feature business etiquette sessions, mock interviews with local business leaders and more.