OGDEN -- At age 15, Shawn Felter was a little unsettled to find himself the married father of two, employed as a shipping clerk for $2,122 a month, paying $779 of that for housing and for utilities, with most of the balance going to food, child care, transportation and insurance.
Shawn decided he could not afford an Internet connection without taking on a second job, perhaps as a security guard.
"I'm trying to get just the stuff I need and not be greedy about the stuff I want," said Shawn, a Mound Fort Junior High School ninth-grader.
He was assigned his basic pay range and family status as part of Reality Town, a YMCA program designed to teach young people about the financial responsibilities they will face as adults.
"It's about learning to be responsible and getting a good education so you can get a job with good pay," said Shawn, who is, in reality, single with no dependents.
And it's about not having two imaginary kids by age 15, huh?
"No," he said, blushing slightly as he wandered away.
Elizabeth Rangel, 14, presented with a list of job choices, chose to be a veterinary assistant, which pays about $2,159 a month. Because she and her imaginary husband have three kids, it's cheaper for him to stay home, in their $738-a-month condo, than for Elizabeth to pay $1,250 a month for childcare.
"I still need a car, but I'm not going to budget for entertainment or a phone," she said. "We don't have a phone in real life, and we're doing OK."
Elizabeth said she plans to be a veterinarian in real life, and she anticipates marriage and kids.
"I was thinking three children, and now I'm thinking two," she said with a laugh.
Mound Fort's 230 ninth-graders filed into the school gym Wednesday morning, each with an assigned monthly wage picked from a list of jobs based on their grade point average. Students with the highest grades could pick from a list that might include doctor or scientist. Those with low grades got a list with options such as groundskeeper.
With income determined and family status assigned, students had to make a budget by visiting volunteer-run tables to select from economical-to-luxury range housing and transportation options, insurance costs, food and clothing expenses, child care arrangements, savings and investments and more.
"We had one student 'buy' a BMW, then return it later and buy a bus pass," said Nancie Watson, YMCA project manager at Mound Fort.
"We had one student ask if he could give one kid back," Watson said, with a laugh. "We had one ask the cost of a divorce.
"It's an awesome experience for these kids to learn reality, and what it will take to support a family. And ninth grade is the perfect age, because they're gearing up for high school, where their grades will determine their educational options in the future. It all starts now."
Amanda Taeger, 15, found herself a married fashion designer, the mother of two. Her imaginary husband stays home with the kids in their modest condo. Amanda signed up for a $210-per-month cellphone plan and expects to pay $352.90 a month in tithing. The family's clothing budget is modest, because Amanda will bring styling skills to the table.
"It's really an eye-opening exercise," Amanda said. "As a teenager you think the future will be easy-breezy. This has made me realize it is really smart to have savings, in case something unexpected happens."
Esmerelda Valenciano, 14 and a dentist in Reality Town, budgeted $10 of her $2,848 monthly pay for donation to a homeless shelter. Child care for her imaginary tots is $600.
"I thought it would be easy," Esmerelda said. "A lot of kids think life will be easier when they grow up and leave home. I think I will be wiser, after this. It's been a good opportunity to learn what grownups go through."