“Get a Life” game teaches middle schoolers basics of money
It has been a common refrain aimed at adult children who won’t leave home; nosy neighbors who won’t mind their own business; and the strange recluse who remains sequestered with 100 cats: “Get a Life!”
That’s what the State Treasurer John Perdue’s office has been saying to middle school students for the last several years, but for completely different reasons. “Get a Life” is the name of its highly successful, hands-on financial reality activity.
Students begin the game with a hypothetical income and are asked to purchase common commodities and objects, such as a house, car, health insurance and other essentials. Often those given a low-paying job find themselves in over their heads and are allowed to “earn” a college degree or trade midway through the game, making getting the life they want a little easier.
The “Get a Life” caravan recently came to Cedar Grove Middle School in eastern Kanawha County. Each eighth-grader received the typical crash course tutorial.
Dior Cooper began the game with the aforementioned modest income. He had a decision as to which car to buy. In his fictional life he also had a wife and kids.
“Well, if you’ve got your eyes on a certain car and it doesn’t have enough seats for kids then you look at something else,” he said.
His buddy, Blake Lyons, said the game had been an eye opener. “It’s going to be difficult,” he said of life and its financial challenges. “It’s interesting to learn how life really is. This is difficult, especially with two kids.”
Dedicated office staff members brought “Get a Life” to 90 schools in fiscal year 2018, reaching 10,691 students at the middle school level. The game is geared to that age group, who are just beginning to understand the relationship between life, money and, if not happiness, the necessity of at least enough green to pay one’s bills.
Speaking of green, the activity includes “The Green Reaper,” a spooky figure who informs students of fictional financial disasters, such as busted radiators or leaky roofs – the sorts of things adults encounter each day.
“When I took office in January of 1997, I made financial education a priority,” Treasurer Perdue said. “I could see the glaring need for it. From the feedback we’re getting it seems we’re helping, one school at a time. We intend to carry on this mission.”
Cedar Grove student Emily Johnson said the game “makes you settle for what you have and lets you know that you’ve got to work up to what you want.”
Treasurer‘s Office staffer Barbara Ray said the mid-game opportunity to obtain a college education is an important option. “We want them to look at higher education, or any education beyond high school, trade, technical school, certifications, whatever.”
Cedar Grove counselor Dick Lanham said the economic “realities” are harsh, before the income bump. “The reactions are usually they don’t have enough money to cover the basics. . . Some are despondent. ‘I’m $1,000 in the hole.’ They’re learning that a high school diploma isn’t going to cut it.”
Nationwide, statistics show that secondary school students could benefit from a generous helping of financial education, on budgeting to interest rates.
Ray’s Treasurer’s Office colleague Roger Hughes said he sees kids not necessarily understanding the intricacies of stock splits and hedge funds, but grasping the basics.
“We’re not trying to make them masters of the financial universe, we’re just giving them peek into that window,” Hughes said. “And they’re getting it. A lot of them have said ‘I had no idea my parents did this.’ ‘
Treasurer Perdue says financial education is underemphasized as the peril of students.
“I’ve often said nothing opens up the doors of opportunity like education,” Treasurer Perdue. “It’s no different when the subject is financial education. Opportunities can be squelched if our kids squander their money.”