Adulting (the act of being an adult) is hard — really hard.
Even if you think you’re prepared to pay your own bills, buy a house and have an adorable pet, life can throw a curveball at you.
That’s why Southwestern Illinois College invited nearly 900 seventh-grade students to campus for a crash course about life in the real world.
“The idea is to help them to find a career and path that’s going to make them happy,” said Marlene Mueller, coordinator for the program called “Welcome to the Real World.”
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Students from middle schools across the metro-east received a mock checkbook and debit card before the exercise began. They chose a career, then volunteers helped the students create a budget for housing, food, transportation, clothing, entertainment and insurance.
Their expenses didn’t stop there.
Students also had to budget for wild cards like haircuts, drying cleaning and credit card bills.
Even if your child isn’t sure about what they want to be, it’s good to start an early conversation about life after high school, Mueller said.
Here are eight tips for teaching your children about the real world:
Talk about career choices early
Before Mueller joined the staff at SWIC, she taught high school. That’s when she learned the importance of talking about career choices early. “I had students who wanted to be accountants, but they never took accounting in high school,” Mueller said. If your child has an idea about what kind of job they want in the future, it’s never too early to nurture those plans. Encouraging them to take high school courses that could be useful when they start college.
Take them shopping
SWIC’s crash course included a lesson about money management at the supermarket. The same lesson can be taught at home. Make a budget before leaving home, then bring a calculator to the store the next time you go shopping. As your child adds items to the cart, keep track of the price on each item. If your child tries to add an impulse item to the cart, remind them of the budget you made before leaving home. Sticking to the budget might allow the family to enjoy a bigger luxury item or vacation later on.
Be honest about the bills
The water bill might be a good place to start when it’s time to talk about budgeting. The water your family uses for showers, cooking and washing the car adds up. Don’t be afraid to show your child the rate and encourage them to conserve when possible. Conservation could save the family money in the end.
Teach them about time management
A child’s first lesson about time management often starts with their first homework assignment. Putting homework before video games, television or time with a tablet is a good idea. But parents could take this practice one step further by creating a schedule for the family. This way children can learn how much time is taken up by activities outside of school.
Don't be afraid to say no
This one is simple. Most adults can’t have everything they want. Life just doesn’t work that way.
Open a savings account
Mueller’s philosophy is to save one hour of pay per day. But long before your child receives a paycheck, open a savings account for them. Put a portion of the money they receive for birthdays and holidays in the bank. Show them the statement every month. This will help them to keep track of their money early in life.
Talk about the future (and make plans)
Setting goals for your family is one way to prepare your child for adulthood. Want to take a vacation? Involve your child when it’s time to plan the trip. Calculate the difference between driving, flying or taking a train, then create a savings plan together.
Some of the best lessons that children learn about the real world happen outside of the classroom. Head to a local soup kitchen or roll up your sleeves by picking up trash in the community. Finding a way to give back together could teach your child a valuable lesson about paying it forward well into adulthood.