OGDEN -- Ricardo Marquez signed up for a basic phone and cable plan this week, not entirely sure he still could afford to support a family and make payments on a modest home on his photographer's annual salary of $26,000.
"I think I'll be OK," said Ricardo, 14 and participating Thursday in a Reality Town event at Mount Ogden Junior High School. "I've still got $115 a month to spend, so that should be plenty."
Reality Town is a program to help teens understand the financial realities of adult life, and to plan and prepare accordingly.
"We are responsible to try and prepare our students for their future life, and what is going to come with that," said Dorian Stoker, a counselor at the junior high. "This program gives them a taste of what is to come, and helps them understand they need to take action unless they want to live with their parents their whole life."
Schools that participate in the program provide a list of students' preferred careers, along with students' grade point averages. If teens with low grade point averages request a career that requires an advanced degree, those students are assigned a job more in keeping with their current academic performance level.
"We had a couple bell hops and fast food workers who were not at all pleased with the jobs they got," Stoker said. "A lot of kids wanted to be professional athletes, but found that the pay is not that great unless you are a superstar."
Students were given simulated check books, and sent to volunteer-run tables that lined a large room at the school. Students used their imaginary income to pay monthly expenses.
The teens navigated between tables to choose between housing options, food plans, mandatory taxes and utilities, health and dental insurance, donations, and a dozen or so other monthly expenses. More than 40 volunteers from area businesses and community groups worked with the students to explain all the options.
"The volunteers were great," said Zach Snow, YMCA community coordinator at the school. "They stayed for hours and worked closely with the kids. We couldn't have done it without them."
Jesus Saldana was excited about his assigned career of motorcycle mechanic, which he said is pretty close to his dream job. Reality Town said the job would pay $28,344, which would be enough for Jesus, 14, to make $578 monthly payments on a mobile home he would share with his wife and their 6-year-old child.
"It's pretty good," Jesus said. "It does motivate you to do good in school so you can get a better job if you want one. I didn't know how many payments there would be when I was an adult. I'm not sure I will have any money left for the donations."
Danielle Stone, 15, found herself working in retail sales, and went to the supplemental income table to sign up for a second job as a waitress.
"I'll be in a mobile home, and I will have a Corolla for a car," she said. "There are five people in my family, so groceries will be $610 a month, even on the cheap plan. But I got $113 a month for entertainment, which the pamphlet described as a small trip and some movies, so that would be fun.
"In my real life, I want to be a writer and a veterinarian, so I will go to college for that," Danielle said. "I hope it will pay better than retail sales and being a waitress."
Stoker said the biggest surprise for most students was the cost of child care.
"I had one student ask me which table he could go to to sell his kids," Stoker said. "I told him he really didn't want me to do that, and I showed him pictures of my grandkids."
Snow said students also learned from comparing their assigned jobs.
"I was excited that a lot of the kids had different incomes than their friends did," he said. "It gave them the opportunity to see that your grades are really important, and they really do matter as you move forward and try to get into college. Reality Town gave them a little taste of their future, and the importance of the choices they make."
Annika Daniels, 14, was taken aback by the monthly childcare cost associated with her imaginary 8-year-old daughter.
"It was $260 a month for one child," she said. "A friend of mine has got five kids."
But Annika wasn't hurting too badly as an anesthesiologist earning $138,264 per year. She even had enough extra money to go to the pet table, and afford a mini schnauzer like the one she used to have in real life.
"It needs grooming, so it wasn't the cheapest choice," Annika said. "I do feel good that if I get a good job I will be able to manage the costs. I want to be a mechanical engineer in real life.
"But it takes a lot to raise kids and to manage your money. I feel bad for my parents."