"Reality Town" Makes Financial Literacy Fun

Apr 4, 2018

Students are given the specifics on their simulated life in the "Reality Town" booklet.
Credit Tennessee Watson

Laramie High School students were transported to the future Tuesday and asked to handle life as an adult; paying for groceries, housing, health insurance, and childcare just to name a few expenses. The activity, facilitated by Laramie County Community College, is called "Reality Town," and it’s designed to help teach financial literacy.

Jasmine Varos is LCCC’s high school transition coordinator and she helps put on the "reality simulator" at an increasing number of schools across Wyoming.

"They’re 30 years old. They’ve graduated high school and any post-secondary education they are going to achieve. They have children, they have a spouse or they are a single parent. They have a paycheck," explained Varos.

When students start the activity they are given the specifics on their simulated life in a booklet. Knowing their job and salary, and the size of their family, students then meander from table to table interacting with volunteers who actually work for local businesses–from car insurance to clothing stores–where they are asked to consider what they can afford with their allotted salary.

"90 percent of the booklets are made low income so they really feel that struggle," Varos said. "We don’t want them to just run through it and think that life is easy like that." Exposure to financial literacy in high school is a critical piece of preparing students for college and careers, according to Varos.  

"A lot of times they don’t think about how much food costs, they did think about, ‘ok, even if I don’t buy a car, how much is a bus ticket or how much is a bike?’ All these little things that add up, and it shows them everything that’s involved in and how to overcome those challenges."

Varos said if they’re running low on cash the simulation allows them to get a second job, at which point participants might be confronted with the cost of additional childcare if they have a kid. Students are asked to weigh all these variables, Varos said, not to make them feel overwhelmed but to get them thinking about how they’ll finance their aspirations for life after high school.

So far, LCCC has brought "Reality Town" to schools in Cheyenne, Laramie, Wheatland, and Casper. With a recent boost in funding, Varos said she’ll be able to expand the reach of the activity even further.