Our children need to see — for real — how much money it takes to live

Given what’s going on in the world of politics, and the whipsaw trading in the stock market, maybe you could use some laughs.

I know I could.

Recently, I taught a budgeting session for some Girl Scouts in the nation’s capital. I’ve shared with readers before the funny and enlightening outcomes of such sessions and would like to do so again.

Typically when people do budgeting sessions with children and teens, they give the students a template in which the expense-line items are already identified. But my goal is to get the children’s perception of the basic costs of life, without coaching that can mask the fact that they don’t yet really get it.

In groups of about eight, I had the teenage Girl Scouts pick a career and then a city where they’d like to live. They had to work as a team to decide how to spend their income.

Their first rude awakening was about their salary. They all thought they would start out making the kind of money people earn at the peak of their careers.

Lawyers can start out earning a lot of money if they work for a big firm. But the median salary for those who graduated law school in 2015 was $64,800, according to the National Association for Law Placement. The average starting salary for the first year of a medical residency is $52,700, according to Medscape, an online resource for physicians and health professionals.

All the Girl Scouts wanted to live either in New York or Los Angeles, not considering the high cost of living.

Then I hit them with taxes. The look of shock after I calculated their net pay was priceless.

After they wrote down their net monthly income, I simply told them to spend their money however they wanted, and that’s when the fun began. I asked the parents to stand nearby and just listen. It was their lesson, too.

The expression on the parents’ faces when they realized their children were unrealistic about certain expenses was, well, priceless.

The adults tried not to laugh because, once the kids realized they didn’t have as much money as they anticipated, they started making some crazy concessions.

Following are their fantasy-world budget allocations for real-life expenses:

$400 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan with no roommates. One parent whispered, “They’ll be living under a bridge.”

$30 per month for a bed. Me, to the group: “Are you going to rent a bed?” Group leader: “No, but don’t you have to pay for your bed?”

$30 a month for cellphone service. Me: “So what kind of phone are you going to have?” Group leader: “A flip phone.”

$400 per month for the water bill. Me: “How many showers are you planning to take?!”

$100 a month for food. That was about the average they all thought they would spend for meals, including eating out. Me, to the parents: “How much do you spend to feed them now?” Parents: “More than $100 a month.”

$300 a month for clothes. Just about every group thought they needed to allocate money every month for clothes.

When I asked these aspiring professionals about the student-loan payments missing from their budgets, they assured me they would not have any debt. And why?

Their parents were rich.

The parents assured me they were not.

But then came the precious moment that happens every time I do this exercise.

“Mom, can I give you a hug?” one girl asked.

She and the other teens got it.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

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