JASPER COUNTY, Ill. (WTHI) - For many high school students, especially seniors, the focus is on making it to graduation.
"College for sure," said Alicia Buerster, "Definitely where to go and what I want to do."
Buerster is a senior at Newton Community High School. While college is definitely on the top of her priority list, one thing she isn't too worried about is money.... at least not right now.
However, this week, she's worried about paying a few bills.
"I didn't think it'd be as hard, it's a little stressful," she said.
That's because Buerster is one of several students participating in the H&R Block Budget Challenge, a free program used by schools throughout the country.
It's a simulation where students become adults, holding down a job with a steady paycheck, and budget their money to pay bills like car insurance, rent and loans.
"I don't want to scare them," said Gail Turner, business/technology teacher, "but I want them to get an idea of hey, this is what my parents are going through and this is what I'm going to have to go through if I don't have all my ducks in a row."
Turner says the program is also a way to show students that life happens and hardships may set you back unexpectedly.
"Life is awesome, but you're going to have your good and your bad days," she said, "You never know what's going to happen. You could have car trouble, so you need to make sure you have money saved up in case you need to pay for a flat tire or whatever else may happen."
The simulation is also Turner's approach to comply with Illinois requirements of teaching financial literacy in elementary, middle and high schools. Illinois is now one of 45 states to add financial literacy into its standards.
The H&R Block Budget Challenge comes with a nice incentive for students. The overall winner receives $20,000 in scholarship money from the company.
The new addition to the curriculum is one Turner definitely embraces.
"I was raised where my family didn't talk about that. So when I started out in the world I wasn't very knowledgeable, I had to learn from my mistakes," Turner said, "They (students) haven't been told how to do a budget. My high school students, I had a few of them that didn't know the difference between a check book and a savings account book. So I feel like this will benefit everyone."
For students like Buerster, the simulation continues to be a reality check and a glimpse into a life she'll soon live after graduation.
"I didn't realize how much my parents actually spend on me," Buerster said, "I didn't realize all the different things that you have to keep accountable, what you have to pay for, to make sure you can just make it through every day."
As Turner sees it, it's proof that financial literacy is a life lesson that knows no age limit.
"Your kids are never too young to learn about it," Turner said, "You can start in pre-school and talk about coins, the different shapes and what they mean, how much they're worth. You can go through a grocery ad and show them what you can buy for 75 cents, versus how many quarters it takes to buy something for $2."
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