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I spent quite a few of my formative years in Honolulu, Hawaii and only moved to the San Francisco Bay Area when I started high school. The middle school project that I remember most clearly was named “The Cost of Living in Paradise”. The Hawaiian Islands is often addressed as paradise, but the cost of living on these islands is very high and so our sixth grade English teacher wanted us to learn about the financial burdens our parents go through. The project worked like the following:

1. We all picked an educational degree out of a hat
2. We all picked a marital status out of a hat
3. We all drew the number of children we had randomly
4. “Married” people were paired up with partners.
5. We had to look in the newspaper classifieds for jobs according to our educational degree. (This was 12 years ago and online job ads were not very common)
6. We had to find housing in the newspaper. (no craigslist yet!)
7. Then based on the pay rate of our “jobs” we set up a budget and calculated how much money we have left at the end of the month.
8. Finally we had to create a poster with all the classfied ads we found and present our budget, and tell the whole class what the cost of living in paradise is.

This is how my fate in paradise turned out. I had a high school diploma and I found a job as a carpet shampooer paying $2000 a month. I was married, and my “husband” happened to be my best friend, who had an associates degree in the culinary arts so he found a job as a chef paying $37,000 a year. It was pretty funny because he was a chubby boy and the whole class laughed and said they could see him as a chef (in reality he is in law school now). Fortunately, we had no kids. The few details I remember about our budget is that our rent was $700 a month, and we had one car and I took the bus to work because public transit is very abundant on the island. We also only budgeted $20 a month for entertainment. In the end we had about $760 left in savings every month.

It sounds so childish when I write about it now, but I remember being very proud of that project because we had the most savings out of the entire class even though we weren’t graded on our savings amount. Some kids budgeted $400 a month for entertainment and $600 a month for clothes and ended up with 0 dollars for savings, and some of the “single” kids said it wasn’t fair that they had less money. Some of the presentations were quite funny,too. For example, a boy explained that he needed to use a lot of money for entertainment to buy the things his parents didn’t buy for him. The takeaway from that project was 1) stay in school to get better paying jobs 2) budgeting lets you see how much you can spend 3) Hawaii is expensive. I don’t think the lesson got through to everyone, but it was still a worthwhile exercise. It is probably the only personal finance lesson I actually had in school, and that’s why I remember it so well. Now that I am really married and working I think I am a little less frugal than my 12 year old self, but I still manage to save a lot with the hubby. On a side note, I sincerely hope the spendthrift kids in my class aren’t living in the zero savings budget they drew when they were 12. Anyway, I think this project can be replicated anywhere with any literate kid and a few newspapers. Of course, it is a lot more fun with more kids in a classroom.

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using viagraon 12.05.07 at 11:03 am

Wow that is a great lesson from your English teacher! I do wish they had more personal finance lessons incorporated into our education system. But it seems that the greatest impact is still from parents. I don’t think the message would have hit home as much without my dad nagging me about it my whole life =P

using viagraon 12.05.07 at 12:41 pm

Great lesson! Should be a mandatory project in all schools. Sadly, I bet your classmates ARE living paycheck to paycheck like a lot of us who caught on too late that debt is a life sentence.

using viagraon 12.05.07 at 8:31 pm

Interesting post – this sort of teaching should be mandatory in schools.


using viagraon 12.06.07 at 3:09 am

Hi there!

We don’t exactly know each other or anything…I found my way here through someone else’s blogroll!

This post stood out to me for a couple of different reasons:
1. I participated in a similar project years ago in High School; I was married with a college degree, no kids, and I forgot my profession… The project lasted (2) two months at the end of which I’m happy to report, we too did well.
2. I was of the same belief that Hawaii (a.k.a. Paradise) couldn’t be any more expensive than Los Angeles… Obviously this is not the case!

Lastly, the project can be replicated and it SHOULD be replicated. It was a fun project when I was in school. Sometimes we don’t realize how much easier it is to spend money than it is to earn it.

Read you later!

using viagraon 12.06.07 at 11:14 am

What a great assignment! I wrote a post about this on my blog because I think it’s something that should be passed on and practiced. Thanks for posting it!!!

using viagraon 12.06.07 at 4:04 pm

Thanks for all the great comments! I think children do want to learn about money and they should be taught as soon as possible about managing their money. It really is part of growing up!

using viagraon 12.08.07 at 10:05 pm

Your teacher’s idea was really excellent. This is an idea that can be so easily implemented in almost any school anywhere.

Hope my country’s educators read your post.

using viagraon 12.09.07 at 9:04 pm

[...] baglady presents The Cost of Living in Paradise Redux – A Financial Project All Young People Could Do posted at The [...]

using viagraon 12.11.07 at 5:34 am

[...] baglady presents The Cost of Living in Paradise Redux – A Financial Project All Young People Could Do. I think this is a cute story that dates back to grade school – and how the financial lessons [...]

using viagraon 12.11.07 at 9:57 am

I just read an article somewhere (either newspaper or online.. can’t remember) that there is not much demand for a high school class dedicated to personal finance, because it’s not considered a “difficult math” so students don’t want to take it because it wouldn’t look good for applying to colleges. It is a shame, because while the math IS very basic, some people never take the time to understand the relevant concepts to analyze their money.

using viagraon 12.11.07 at 9:59 am

I was also going to mention that while I can solve a PDE, some of the simple concepts relating to personal finance is still foggy in my mind =P

using viagraon 12.12.07 at 10:30 am

[...] The Cost of Living in Paradise Redux – A Financial Project All Young People Could Do @ The Bag Lady [...]

using viagraon 01.31.08 at 2:54 am

Surprisingly, a friend of mine did a presentation to some of us. You get a 10-year old child (or kid) and you place 3 different sized pots in front on a table.

Then you give the kid 10 one cent coins. Instruct them the 1st pot is the item they want to buy, 2nd pot is the holiday they want and 3rd pot is their education.

Now, ask them to distribute the 10 coins into the 3 pots based on what they want to do with the money.

The results proved kids aren’t educated to think ahead and the value of money. So I’d say financial education for kids is very important in school.

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