Is There Ever Such A Thing As Too Much Reality?

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An observation was made once that unlike school, in life the tests come before the lesson.

Credit unions have invested a lot in giving lessons via classroom education, particularly in financial literacy. Connecticut's CUs, for instance, recently won a national Desjardins Youth Financial Education Award for the Financial Reality Fair the state's CUs sponsor in local high schools. In Connecticut, students research their career choice and starting salary prior to the Fair date, according to the league. Students are then given a budget worksheet identifying their career choice and must live within the starting salary for the month while living on their own during the Fair.

Given the economy of the past few years, one wonders just how big a dose of "reality" the kids are getting. Surely it must be a challenge to provide some balance between one of those cheery, black-and-white school films from the 1950s, and a message of "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." Still, if the emphasis is on "reality," we can't help but imagine...

TEACHER: The three of you who are walking in late. Yes, you three. This job requires you to be on time. You're fired.

TRIO OF STUDENTS: What? Really. Fine. My dad's a lawyer, so you'll be hearing from him. (The students leave, unaware, like the teacher, that the reality is the fictitious company will not only be paying legal fees, but will be dropped by its insurance carrier, too.)

TEACHER: For the rest of you, I want to welcome you to new employee orientation here at Real World Enterprises. Let's get started with... um, yes, you with your hand raised.

STUDENT: I'm going to need a sick day.

TEACHER: What! It's your first day. You haven't accumulated sufficient time for a sick day.

STUDENT: ...Then a vacation day.

TEACHER: You also don't have any vacation days accumulated at this point. You get a one week vacation in your first year, and...

STUDENTS: One week! (Depressed groans all around.)

TEACHER: ...unless you get a government job or want to work as a teacher.

STUDENT: Um, is this annual salary for teachers shown here in our packets what you actually make?

TEACHER: (In a low, unenthusiastic voice.) Uh, yes, I'm afraid it is.

STUDENTS: More groans all around.

TEACHER: Let's get back to orientation. There in your packets you'll find a sample paycheck for your review. Here at the company, you are paid twice a month and...Um, yes, you with your hand raised.

STUDENT: My projected career shows I should be starting out at $37,000 annually. Divided by 24, each of my paychecks should be for $1,541.66. But my check is for about a thousand dollars. So I think you made a mistake, 'cause there's 500 bucks missing.

TEACHER: Actually, class, this is a good time to review what are called 'deductions,' which you'll see there as part of your paycheck. You'll see part of your pay is deducted for federal taxes, state taxes, FICA, which is for Social Security...

STUDENT: FICA? I think I just learned a new F word.

TEACHER: ...And if it makes you feel better, you'll probably never see Social Security, either. For some of you, depending on the city you live in, there are city taxes. There is a deduction for your health insurance here at Real World Enterprises...

STUDENT: ...But I'm not planning to get sick...

TEACHER: ...Those who end up getting sickest never do. But this class is about planning.

HALF THE CLASS, LOOKING AT EACH OTHER: I think I'm going to have to plan a new career...

TEACHER: Speaking of deductions and sickness, you're going to want to learn another new word-"deductible." Here at Real World, your insurance plan-which, if you read the fine print, you'll find doesn't cover any medical costs related to illness or accident-has what's called a deductible, or the money you have to pay out of pocket before the insurance kicks in.

STUDENT: Um, I'm looking at the sample deductible in the hand-out materials, and it's about what I had budgeted for a new car.

TEACHER: Oh, you don't need to worry about that-you won't be able to afford a new car.

STUDENT: Dude, you don't understand, I gotta have a nice ride to impress the ladies.

TEACHER: In the workplace, we don't refer to our boss as 'dude.' And you can have a nice ride; as long as the ladies don't mind it doubling as your crib. Now, let's talk a bit about saving some money. You're going to want to enroll in automatic deposit, and your best bet is at a credit union.

STUDENT: It looks like I'll have about six cents leftover after every paycheck. Can I automatically deposit that?

TEACHER: The important thing is you have a regular savings plan. You will also want to sign up for bill pay, as we still need to talk about your rent, electric bill, other insurance, food, cell phone-hah! wait 'til you start paying for those texts yourself-cable bill...

STUDENT: Um, could you tell us what we need to do to make sure we NEVER graduate from high school?

Frank J. Diekmann is publisher of Credit Union Journal and can be reached at

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