Kimball students study finances at 'Real Life Gauntlet'

Erik Kaufman, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.
·7 min read

Apr. 27—KIMBALL — Insurance costs. Mortgage payments. Medical bills. Unexpected expenses. Those are some of the challenges of living as a financially savvy, responsible adult.

And Tuesday afternoon saw students at Kimball School District take a stab at navigating the ins and outs of responsible finance when they took part in what organizers had dubbed a Real Life Gauntlet, an exercise in which students visited with regional business professionals and learned of some of the obstacles that may face as they graduate from high school and move into the adult world.

"Here at Kimball, we've done some job fairs and have gone to some career fairs and things like that, but this is different than a job fair," said Levi Reindl, counselor for the Kimball School District. "This is supposed to simulate kids out in the real world after they get a degree or get their first real paying job and how to budget and become financially savvy."

The process of the event at the Kimball gymnasium looked like most other typical job fairs, with about a dozen local businesses and organizations manning booths along the perimeter of the room, ready to speak to the lines of students from grades 9 through 12 about what important choices they may have to make in order to balance their finances.

They were assigned a job at the first booth, which set their annual salary. A local car dealership talked about how to approach buying a new or used car, representatives from a local grocery store discussed ways to utilize coupons for maximum savings and insurance representatives talked about the importance of and different benefits of various types of insurance.

There are many aspects to living independently that many youth do not necessarily think of when they begin to look for places to live, vehicles to drive and services to utilize. Even the issue of paying taxes gets a role in the simulation, Reindl said.

"The students will start out with getting a career and attain their wages for their salary for the month, and then they visit the tables set around. One of the first stops is Uncle Sam. He's going to take some money right away." Reindl said. "We have a person in the realty world who will talk about renting versus owning, and another about financing cars and leasing versus buying. Those are things that kids don't think about."

The students made their way around the gymnasium, and after completing the final booth, tallied up their income and expenses. Those who came out in the black would receive a 100 Grand candy bar, while those in the red would receive a Zero candy bar.

Copies of the book Adulting 101 and other materials were given away to students, as well.

It's a simple exercise, but one that can give kids a jump start to answering questions that may have gone without answers during the first part of their lives.

Carson Pringle, with First Dakota Bank in Chamberlain and another organizer of the event, said she and some of her colleagues set out to hold the event after realizing a way for high school students to learn some of the more detailed aspects of adult living could be helpful to students who may be entering the workforce or a freshman college class.

A popular social media post online about a similar event in Washington provided some additional inspiration, as well, she said.

"One thing we're passionate about is personal finance, and to make sure we're raising financially savvy kids that are ready for the real world," Pringle said. "We got together and had some meeting with the Kimball school, and they were on board 100% right off the bat."

The school did not have a job fair this year, and the proposed gauntlet would make for a useful substitute. Especially for a generation of students that may not have had much experience with logging checks in a ledger, she said.

"We had talked about (starting something) because all of us were opening accounts for these young kids coming in, and we would take the extra time to answer questions and educate them on things like check ledgers — a lot of them don't know what that is," Pringle said.

With the school on board, Pringle said it was quite easy to find local businesses and experts to come out and share their own career experience in a slightly different format. Without the support of those volunteers, and financial support from groups like Thrivent, the event would not have been nearly as successful as it was, Pringle said.

"No one hesitated, which is just a sign of how important community members feel this project is, and especially here in small towns where we are even more invested in our youth," Pringle said.

The term "Real Life Gauntlet" came from the idea that the organizers didn't want the students to feel like they were running a gauntlet immediately after graduating from high school. They wanted to have had the students at least think about some of these topics prior to getting out into the real world, Pringle said.

Joe Soulek, with Michelle's Market in Kimball, was one of the businesses set up to talk to students Tuesday. He said the event was a way to get kids thinking about topics that aren't the most fun to think about. He even learned a few money-saving tips himself while he prepared for his table display.

"I think it's a great project. I think it really is an eye-opener for a lot of the students," Soulek said. "I was even learning stuff today and where you can save money. It was surprising to me how much money can be saved, or the different ways to look at it. It's easy to go in and just purchase products, but if you can also cut some corners on where you can save some money."

The students seemed receptive to the idea, even if the exercise was not in the traditional job or career fair they were used to.

"I was a little skeptical coming into it because it was different than any other career fair," said Sidney McCord, a senior at Kimball High School. "But I've learned a lot more with this fair, because since I'm going to college next year and will soon be on my own, I'm learning about what kind of insurance I will need to get and what I need to look for in different areas. Just at the grocery store booth, they were telling me about all these coupons you can use and stuff like that."

Interacting with the different professionals did have her taking note of subjects she had not looked at as closely prior to the event.

"It's not really something you think about, and I have to start thinking about it now, and it's putting everything in perspective," McCord said. "I'm definitely learning a lot that I'll take with me."

Whatever type of candy bar was in the hand of each student by the end of the event was really irrelevant. It was getting the students to think critically about finances and about the different ways in which household finances can be affected that was the real reward, Reindl said.

"I hope we bring an awareness of financial responsibility, and having kids not get into debt," Reindl said.

Pringle said she agreed and was thankful for the support from organizers to volunteers to the school district. That dedication helped make the event truly valuable and should go on to help the students who took part in the Real Life Gauntlet.

"I'm very proud of the school for taking this on and diving in 110%. They really know the value that this event is going to have. I appreciate their support," Pringle said.