Volunteer Rebecca Helms hands Southwestern Middle School eighth-grader Alex Watterson his clipboard after taking Uncle Sam’s cut of taxes, social security and other deductions from his paycheck during the Reality Store event Friday at the National Guard Armory. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Volunteer Rebecca Helms hands Southwestern Middle School eighth-grader Alex Watterson his clipboard after taking Uncle Sam’s cut of taxes, social security and other deductions from his paycheck during the Reality Store event Friday at the National Guard Armory. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Madison area eighth-graders got a look at what it's like to be a tax-paying, family-raising grown up during the 14th annual Reality Store on Friday.

The event, held at the Indiana National Guard armory in Madison, showed students the importance of budgeting and how their high school grade-point average can affect their earning and buying power as adults.

Eighth-grade students from Madison Junior High School, Southwestern Middle School and Shawe Memorial High School each chose a career based on their current GPA. Students with the highest grades could pick from any career available, including the highest paying jobs, while students with lower grades had limited options.

The careers came with a monthly salary. Students were tasked with developing a budget that fit the lifestyle they want to have.

Students were then sent to booths to have taxes, student loans and child care - if they choose to have children - taken out of their monthly budget.

"It's pretty harsh," said Shawn Anderson, a student at Madison. Shawn had to get a second job to pay for all of his expenses.

"It's pretty eye-opening, seeing just how much everything costs."

Holly Bornstein and Genna Miller, both from Madison, said they were surprised how much things cost, too.

Bornstein chose to become a veterinarian and Miller an astronomer.

"We thought we had a lot of money in the beginning," Genna said.

Bornstein added that taking care of two children made budgeting a much more difficult process.

Dawn Bottomly, a counselor at Southwestern, said that's what she was hoping for.

Bottomly worked the child care booth with Angela Elles, a teacher at Ivy Tech Community College.

"They're getting a taste of reality. I've had so many students tell me they're not having kids because it's too expensive," Bottomly said. "I just tell them that's why it's better to wait to have kids until you're financially secure."

Elles said a lot of students come to their booth and end up going into debt.

"They don't expect child care to be so expensive. This is kind of the heartbreaker table."

Jeanna Carter, Madison Junior High School's counselor, brought the Reality Store idea to Madison.

"The goal of the activity is, obviously, to have money left over," Carter said. "We get a lot of kids that say 'I didn't realize my parents had to pay all that.'"

Carter spoke to the eighth-grade students at her school before the event about what she hoped they would learn from the Reality Store. She also said students have been learning how to calculate interest for loans and creating a monthly budget in class as preparation for the event.

"We need them to understand that their GPA starts from Day 1 (of high school,)" Carter said. "If they haven't done so well in junior high, that's OK. They can turn it around in high school."