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Reality Check

Patrick County High School students got a taste of real life last fall when they participated in the 4-H Reality Store. The Reality Store – offered in 33 Virginia counties – simulates financial decisions that adults make every day in order to provide for themselves and their families.

“Young people are often not aware of the realities of the cost of living and what demands will be made on their income as adults. The Reality Store gives them a glimpse at the expenses they can expect when they live on their own and the choices they will need to make,” says Celia Hayhoe, Extension family financial management specialist.


Image 1 Students at Patrick County High School learn just what it takes to stretch a paycheck at the Reality Store simulation.

The event was organized by Amanda Wingfield, family and consumer sciences Extension agent, and Carol Byrd, 4-H youth development Extension agent. “We had more than 80 community volunteers sponsor or participate in the simulation, and more than 400 students attended,” says Byrd.

Students were randomly assigned a life scenario that included a job with a corresponding salary and a family status. They were required to visit booths that represented aspects of living, such as housing, vehicles, childcare, groceries, clothing, banking, medical expenses, taxes and insurance, utilities, furniture, entertainment, and communications. Local businesses sent volunteers to man the booths and offer choices to the students.

The car and truck booth was a top priority for many students, where they could chose from SUVs, hybrids, sports cars, motorcycles, scooters, and an older used truck. Students learned about car loans and monthly payments, along with the need for car insurance. Those who chose the older truck later found themselves paying for repairs.

Throughout the activity, students were occasionally surprised with unforeseen life events, such as the need for surgery or an unexpected inheritance. Other students received the news that they had additions to their families, which, of course, came with new expenses.

“We asked the students what surprised them the most about the experience,” Wingfield says. “Their comments included, ‘the price of gas and groceries,’ ‘how fast money goes just to get necessities,’ and ‘how hard it was to really manage my money wisely.’”