Hilliard middle school students recently jumped into real-world money situations, spending a monthly paycheck on groceries, insurance, clothing and housing in the "Real Money, Real World" program.

Hilliard middle school students recently jumped into real-world money situations, spending a monthly paycheck on groceries, insurance, clothing and housing in the "Real Money, Real World" program.

Held May 8 at Memorial Middle School, May 10 at Weaver Middle School and May 16 at Heritage Middle School, the financial literacy event was coordinated by the Credit Union of Ohio in Hilliard.

Heritage Middle School social studies teacher Ben Foust said students prepared for the event by randomly drawing various "life situations" to create a profile for themselves.

"They drew a career, education level, salary and number and age of children," he said. "Then students determined their net income by deducting taxes, retirement savings, insurance and other expenses from their gross income."

On the day of the event, parent volunteers and representatives from the credit union operated various booths in the gymnasium.

"The students rotated among the booths, having to make financial decisions at each one," Foust said. "They kept a checkbook register page to see their monthly budget.

"The students had to make decisions about things like transportation, housing, clothing, food, insurance, student loans and credit cards. There is even a 'chance' booth, which adds a little luck -- sometimes bad luck -- into the simulation."

Foust said May is not an easy month to get students to "buy in" to a project

"Our students gave 100 percent to the event, which I think speaks to the program's efficacy," he said. "All day long, students were coming up to me saying things like, 'Man, Mr. Foust, I just had to take a second job!' or 'I never realized how expensive children are!' and 'I'm going to have to downgrade my cellphone to buy food.' "

He said the middle school worked closely with credit union representatives, especially Cathy Beaber, who organized and ran the simulation.

Jill Gerschutz, director of marketing at the credit union, said Beaber introduced the program to local schools in 2009.

"The program offers a unique opportunity for each student to experience some of the financial challenges they will face when they start life on their own," Gerschutz said. "Allowing the students to overspend and face consequences in a safe environment is one of the most effective lessons the students learn at the simulation event.

"One student asked after the simulation, 'Is life really this tough?' It gives students a real-life perspective on the financial challenges they may endure to make them more aware."

Linnet Knight, a teacher at Memorial Middle School, said economic literacy is new to the school's curriculum this year.

"We thought the Real Money program would be a fun, hands-on way for students to learn about economics," she said. "Whether they have adequate funds or run out of money, students continue through the simulation to finish with either a positive or negative balance."

She said students seemed "surprised at the cost of real living."

"Many realize the importance of education in relation to their salaries," she said.

Knight said teachers hope to make the simulation an annual event.

"With the state of our economy today, it is important for students to understand appropriate money management and the effect education has on their future," she said.

Foust said he was pleased with the program.

"Students are hungry to learn about how money works and it is a real area of need for them as they grow up," he said. "This program is outstanding. We were very impressed with the program, the staff from Credit Union of Ohio and the parent volunteers who made it possible.

"The best thing about the program is how it engages the students. It was loads of fun and very rewarding."