Who knew there was such a thing as property tax? That is one of the many things eighth-graders from throughout Audrain County had an opportunity to learn Thursday during the yearly “Reality Store” event at Mexico Middle School.
The purpose of the event, first held in 2011, is to give all Audrain County eighth-graders a dose of reality.
“Our initial goal was try to encourage (students) to get extra schooling, make sure (the students) could make a good living. We also ended up finding out they realized (having) kids cost a lot of money and maybe they want to get their education done before they have children,” said MHS Guidance Counselor Darlene Shopher.
The students were given a life situation, including a job, income, marital status, if they have children and more. They then had to budget and plan a life around those circumstances. In the beginning, the students may just see dollar signs, said Misty Frank with the Audrain County Assessor’s office. But as the event progresses, their eyes open to what life is like for adults.
“There is (a student) who made $97,000, and he thought he could pay for a house straight out of his pocket,” Frank said. “You can definitely tell by the end they’re comprehending. It’s fun for us to get out there and teach them.”
The event is coordinated by Shopher. She brought together, with the help of social work students from William Woods University in Fulton, real estate agents, loan officers from banks, insurance brokers, utility services, car dealerships and more to give students a well-rounded look at life’s realities.
“We’ve found out (the students) really appreciate their parents before they leave here. They’re like, ‘I finally understand what stresses my parents,’” Shopher said. “We just really try to encourage them to understand that life is going to be costly and not to drop out of school and not to just get their high school diploma, but go on for some extra training.”
Even before Thursday’s event, students were already planning out their piece of reality. Students had to take their combined gross yearly income and then figure out their federal income tax rate, as well as apply the state tax rate and Federal Insurance Contribution Act rate. This allowed the students to figure their net monthly income, which they then used to plan monthly expenses and if there was any money left over at the end of the month.
All the students, no matter the income level given, had to figure out a way to have a surplus at the end of the month. For students given lower income, this might mean they would have to talk to representatives from social services to help make ends meet.
“Some of them are quite disappointed they don’t qualify, and they have to go back and cut back some stuff,” Rhonda Curtis, adviser at MACC, said, who was helping students with social service applications.
“We’re trying to help (the students) with looking at their income,” said Caroline Groves, director of MACC — Mexico High Education Center.
For student Ty Sims, he realized he might have to give up a few things on a special education teacher’s salary of approximately $37,000 per year, around $67,000 per year when combined with spousal income.
“I only have $4,000 to spend per month, and since I have two kids, I have to spend a lot of money for groceries, child care and stuff like that,” he said.
Sims said he’s learned to save as much money as he is able and to be careful with what he has. Because he had more money going out than coming in, Sims said he would have to give up some of the optional expenses, such as cable or having a pet.