Keeping It Real teaches life skills, financial literacy

Published 4:23 pm Monday, February 18, 2019

PELHAM – About 300 Pelham High School freshmen got a small glimpse of what’s it’s like to pay bills and manage finances on Friday, Feb. 15, during Keeping It Real, a program offered by The Shelby County Chamber that’s designed to teach students financial literacy.

Using actual Shelby County incomes and careers, students went from station to station selecting housing, utilities, transportation, insurance and childcare based on their monthly income. Students also had to budget for groceries and had the option of purchasing a cell phone, cable and Internet. Shelby County business professionals manned the stations and helped the kids figure out the best options for their situation.

Students who got halfway through the exercise and realized they didn’t have enough money to meet their basic needs were able to pay for more education, which increased their monthly income.

All PHS history classes participated in the two-day program. On the first day, the chamber presented a PowerPoint explaining the program to students and assigned careers and lifestyles to each student. The second day was the interactive part of the program.

“This is something to get them thinking about what kind of careers they might be interested in and to try to help prepare them for the future,” PHS career coach Katie Cardwell said. “Throughout this process, they also become a little bit more appreciative for what their parents do for them on a daily basis.”

Freshman Sadie Nolen’s job as a broadcast technician earned her an annual salary of $40,000 and her husband was a stay-at-home dad. She opted for an inexpensive car and got a second job waiting tables. After paying all of her bills, she had $1,001 left over.

“Not having to pay for childcare was the biggest thing that helped me,” she said. “What I learned is you don’t need to have all the nicest and expensive stuff to have a good life.”

Josh Knight said the assignment expanded his mind when it comes to how much things really cost. After going back to college to earn a four-year degree, his career as an agricultural manager paid him $56,900 annually. His wife was a stay-at-home mother of two.

After paying the bills, he had $440 remaining.

“It’s maybe a little less than I wanted it to be, but not as bad as it would’ve been had I not gone back to school,” he said. “This definitely makes me think about my parents differently. I understand more why they say no when I ask for certain things that may seem little to me.”

Mark Teachman, owner of Mark Teachman Coaching, helped students at the banking and finances table. He said the event marked his second time participating in Keeping It Real.

“I have had kids come here having a good understand of money and how it works and others who aren’t familiar with what a checking account is,” he said. “This generation is our future, so they really need to know how to manage money.”

Pelham Mayor Gary Waters, who helped at the station where students selected Internet, cable and cell phone packages, said he enjoyed witnessing the moment when the lightbulb turns on for a student.

“Like the moment when they realize they’re going to have to downgrade to a more inexpensive car in order pay all of the bills,” he said.

He said one funny moment was when a student asked him how much did cell phones cost when he was their age.

“I said, ‘Well, they hadn’t been invented yet. Imagine having to be in a building to make a call,’” he said. “The idea was almost unfathomable for her.”

The chamber’s Keeping It Real program reaches more than 2,000 private and public school students throughout Shelby County.