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Reality Check: Program helps students learn about budgets

Kyle King, left, works out the numbers with a volunteer. Beside him are Leighton Sundberg and Dominic Scoudera.1 / 5
Joe Bond, left, Connor Kusant and Jimmy Vaccaro learned a few life lessons before they were even halfway through the exercise. For example, medical care costs more if you don't have insurance.2 / 5
Jessica Acevedo and Ashley Guilgot smile for the camera while waiting for their turn at the housing table. Pictured in the lower right is Richard Welshons, owner of DCA Title in Hastings.3 / 5
Volunteers from around the community staffed each table and helped students select products or services and helped them calculate how much money they had left after the "purchase." Many volunteers were assigned to the tables closest related to their real world professions.4 / 5
Ryan McCallum talks with a volunteer staffing the banking table.5 / 5

Parents know how tough it can be to make ends meet on a limited income. Their kids, however, often don't fully grasp the idea. That's where Reality Check comes in.

Every year, Hastings Middle School puts its eighth-grade students and those from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School through the national financial awareness program. Each student is given a fixed montly income and has to decide how to spend it on all the areas of independent life that cost money: medical and dental insurance and care, child care, clothing, communications, transportation, health and grooming, entertainment, groceries, furniture, housing, auto insurance, charitable donations and unplanned costs such as a relative's birthday. They track their purchases and balance their funds using check registers they get from the bank.

"They'll learn pretty quickly that they can't always get what they want," said Cheryl Fitzgerald-McNelis, who has been running the program for several years.

Kari Cunningham was surprised at the cost of clothing. Even though she chose department store clothes over the brand names, she still spent $342, when she had only expected to pay about $100.

Connor Kusant learned a quick lesson about medical costs. He went to purchase medical care before he bought the insurance. And even though his insurance took $435 of his $3,360 monthly income, it was well worth it, he said.

"If you don't have insurance, (health care) costs a lot more," he said.

Prices at Reality Check aren't arbitrary. Fitzgerald-McNelis adjusts the numbers to match the local cost of living.

"The prices are pretty typical of what you would see in Hastings," she said.

While the kids might be a little too young to fully appreciate the seriousness of the project, it does make them a little more aware of what their parents do to take care of them.

"If it doesn't sink in, it at least makes them start to think," Fitzgerald-McNelis said.