Money and kids: How the ‘Real World Camp’ teaches students about living in the ‘real world’


Alicia Kellebrew, The Village Financial Resource Center

In my last blog post about teaching kids about money management, I mentioned the “Real World Camp” event that happens in both Fargo and Bismarck, N.D., each year. The events are organized by the ND Jump$tart Coalition, whose mission is to improve the personal financial literacy of all North Dakotans. The volunteers in this group include many area professionals from all different backgrounds, but, as you would expect, many that work in education and finance. There are different target age groups by location that vary between fifth, sixth, and seventh graders.

There may be slight differences in the ways the different locations conduct the event, and I have only participated in the one in Bismarck so I will describe how it is set up there. In the first half of the day the participants rotate through different presentations on financial topics such as needs vs. wants, how to prepare and hunt for jobs, how to use credit responsibly, and budgeting basics.

After they have learned all about many important financial topics we set them loose in the “Real World City.” In the “Real World City” each child is given a life scenario that includes a certain level of education, career, salary, and family make up. Armed with this information they must put together a budget that covers the required expenses (housing, utilities, groceries, transportation, student loans, etc.) as well as some of the other expenses of life such as medical and entertainment. Just to keep things interesting (and true to life!) there are also “chance” cards they have to draw which may require them to get new jobs, deal with an unexpected medical issue, or pay a fine for speeding or failing to license their pet properly. This is my favorite part of the whole day as the kids have to go from vendor to vendor to put their budget together within the guidelines of their scenarios. The vendors include everything from a local grocery store, daycare provider, housing options, a student loan lender, and even our local hockey team!

I really enjoy watching the kids try to put everything together and can literally see the light bulbs going on above their heads as they realize just how expensive the “real world” can be. I remember one kid whose three chance cards all involved him losing his job so then he had to visit the employment services booth to get new ones. Unfortunately, the new jobs didn’t pay him as much as the previous ones and so he couldn’t afford to cover his family’s basic living expenses (not even their groceries!). He looked at me and said “Wow! Being a grown up is HARD!” That is exactly what we want the kids to get out of their time in the Real World City – that there are a lot of expenses in life but that with careful planning and determination it will all work out.

If you are interested in more information about talking to your kids about money management you can visit our website at www.helpwithmoney.org or give us a call at (800) 450-4019.

2 thoughts on “Money and kids: How the ‘Real World Camp’ teaches students about living in the ‘real world’

  1. The Real World Camp is a great exercise for kids to learn budgeting. Its a fun event and the kids and event staff seem to enjoy teaching the kids on how much stuff really costs in the real world.

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