If you’re reading this, you are probably in one of three categories:

  1. You have a kid in middle or high school who desperately needs to learn about making good financial decisions
  2. You have been in high school before and thought, “Why am I learning how to calculate the square root of 879, but don’t know how to pay a bill or earn credit?”


  1. You have felt the sting of “adulting” at some point in your life; you can relate to wanting to learn how to manage your money responsibly and make financial decisions that are going to lead you to success.

As a lover of all things English and Art and a Literature major in college, I have been in categories two and three before. I did not take many (or really any) business or finance classes in high school or college. After graduating college, I soon regretted this decision after getting my first credit card statement back and realizing that shiny, beautiful, little plastic square is indeed not just fake money, and you have to pay them back…or it could ruin your credit forever!

Thankfully, I have two Accountants as parents and their guidance throughout my life has helped me be responsible with money, (for the most part – this is probably where I should apologize to my husband for my occasional “retail therapy” sessions), but I still wish I would have had more opportunities to learn about this vital part of life before being thrown into adulthood.

Because so many have my same thoughts and feelings after graduating, the Rowan branch of State Employees Credit Union (SECU) is now providing financial literacy to middle and high school students in our county through the “Reality of Money” simulation. This simulation began in 2013 when Jimmy Goodrum, the Senior Vice President of Member Outreach and Development at SECU, saw something like it in Thomasville and wanted to develop his own financial education outreach for young students. He did, and it is all over the state now!

His simulation has recently gained prominent exposure throughout Rowan-Salisbury Schools, taking place in THREE of our schools this past year – West Rowan Middle School, East Rowan High School, and Jesse C. Carson High School. Now that other schools have seen it, SECU’s dream is that it will be in at least all the high schools next year, and maybe even all the middle schools – planting financial literacy seeds early on!


Get the Conversation Started

The goal of the simulation is financial literacy and education for youth, which is something that’s not necessarily on the forefront of what is taught in school. Students participating in the simulation see firsthand how to handle money, so it is a great way to get that conversation started.

The financial education simulation begins with kids getting different profiles that give them a possible future scenario: an occupation, if their credit is good or bad, how much education they have, their marital status, number of children, total number in family, student loan payment, savings account balance, and their income-yearly gross, monthly gross, and monthly net. The occupations range from a line-cook at a fast-food restaurant, to a cosmetologist, to a dentist or doctor.


Students receive different profiles that give them a possible future scenario in the financial education simulation.


From there, students travel around the room to eleven different stations that uniquely teach them about the reality of money, and the goal is to “survive the month”…and have fun while doing it!

At the housing station, students are required to either rent or purchase a house that is sufficient for every member of their family, and they have to pull a “credit” card from this station to determine whether their credit is good or bad. Sarah Wales, the Reality of Money Coordinator for the Rowan branch of SECU, says, “This is a great place to teach them about the importance of good credit. If your credit is bad, you can only rent.”

At the transportation station, that lesson about credit gets reiterated when they have to purchase a car that will carry their whole family. They see the effects of bad credit when the person next to them, who got lucky and pulled “good” credit, has the same exact car and is paying less for it.

If you have kids, you know how expensive childcare can be, but often times, people don’t realize this expense until they have a kid and can’t avoid it. Therefore, everyone in the simulation has to visit the childcare station regardless of whether or not they “have” children. Donna Seaford, VP of Rowan’s branch of SECU, laughs and says this is where they hear one of the kids’ biggest takeaways: “Dang, kids are EXPENSIVE!”

In groceries, entertainment, and clothing, students choose from one of three packages: Top of the line (steaks, vacation to Hawaii, Macy’s), middle grade, (hamburgers, mountain weekend, Belk), or economical (ramen noodles, high school football game, Goodwill). They have to pick plans that feed and clothe every member of the family. Students at this station quickly realize how much money it takes just to live day to day and provide basic needs and wants for yourself and family.

It’s 2019 – basically everyone has the newest Smart Phone and fastest Wi-Fi, so the communications station is where students get internet, television, and a cell phone. They can choose from one of three levels again: expensive, moderately priced, or the economy package.

Another expense the students will face in life is healthcare insurance, and in the simulation, the one they get depends on if their given profile is single, married, or have kids.

The credit card station runs by the luck of the draw; they may draw and have no payment, or they may have a $1,400 one! This is where they get education on not making the minimum payment, because it will just keep on accruing interest. Makayla Ennis, a junior at Carson High School, sees this as her biggest takeaway after visiting this station. She says, “Always have money in your savings account and pay off credit cards fast. And, at least get your high school diploma so you have a higher earnings potential!”


Students at the ‘Credit Card Station’ during the Financial Simulation.


The Stuff Happens” rover is a person who runs around and makes students draw a card where they either win money or lose money. The scenarios on the cards are real-life things that happen and are typically out of our control, such as grandma sending a birthday check, finding $20 in your pocket, getting your tax refund, your kid gets strep and has to go to the doctor, or you get a flat tire going down the interstate. This definitely gives the simulation the mystery factor and makes it fun!

At the Dollars & Sense station, students get a chance to win money by drawing a card that asks a financial literacy question. If they get it right, they get $50 towards their “checking” account or “savings.” If they get it wrong, they get a good lesson about whatever was asked!

As students cycle through the stations, a lot of them find themselves needing help, so they can head to the help station, where SECU employees are stationed and giving out advice on how to make it to their next payday. Some of the students, especially the ones who have low-income jobs on their profiles, have to hit up this station a lot just to make it through the month! This is a great learning experience for them. It shows them how important an education is in finding a profitable job and how costly it can be to use your money carelessly.

The high schoolers from East and Carson who participated in the simulation this past year are thankful, because a lot of the things they learned they will be using immediately. The middle schoolers in the county who participated in the simulation in May credit the simulation as being very helpful as well. One particularly intuitive 6th grade student said, “I learned that I need to save some money and not go wild with it. And, living with your parents isn’t so bad now.”

Mrs. DeAnna Byrd, a Civics teacher at Carson, says “It is our job as educators to expose our children to as much real-life implementation as possible. This is an ideal simulation for that, which is why we have invited SECU back to do this with all Civics students for 5 years, each and every semester!”

This simulation is an experience that leaves a mark on students for years to come. It is a great overview of all the money lessons kids should know before graduating high school, and soon, (*fingers crossed*) all RoCo students will have participated in it at least once before graduating! Big shout-out to SECU for partnering with RSS and teaching financial literacy to our youth!