Kaycee students learn life skills in real game of ‘Life’

By Stephen Dow

Buffalo Bulletin

Via Wyoming News Exchange

KAYCEE — When you receive your first paycheck, you feel like a millionaire.

Shelley Ramirez just received $4,960. Granted, it's not a real paycheck  Ramirez knows this is all a part of the Real Life Game at Kaycee School on March 29 on the school's career day. But it still takes the high school senior's breath away. It's more money  real, fake or otherwise  than she's ever held.

With that kind of money, possibilities seem endless. But then reality sets in, courtesy of retired Kaycee School teacher and event co-organizer Juli Aubrey.

"Calculate 30% of the number on the front of your folder,"

Aubrey instructs Ramirez and the other high schoolers. "That's what the government will take from your paycheck in taxes. That money isn't yours anymore" The number $1,488 glares up at Ramirez from her calculator. She sighs and does the math  down to $3,472. She's feeling a little poorer already.

With that, Aubrey gives the students their marching orders: visit the booths around the Kaycee School gym to buy necessities such

as an apartment, car, phone service and student loans.Each student had received an amount based on the average Wyoming salary for the job he or she hopes to have after graduating from high school and college. As a registered nurse, Ramirez received a higher salary than most. But whether students were paid a lot or a little, they all must follow the game's only rule, Aubrey says.

"Whatever you do, you cannot have a negative balance," Aubrey says. "That's not how things work in the real world."

Ramirez will have to visit almost all of the booths, except for the health insurance booth because most registered nurses in Wyoming have a work-provided health plan. She starts her journey at the real estate table manned by Dolly Belus.

Belus gives Ramirez and her fellow students a menu of options to choose from, starting with a one-bedroom apartment for $450 a month. The numbers climb from there: $725 a month for a two bedroom, $900 a month for a three bed room.

"Can I have a roommate?" Ramirez asks, at the same time as fellow student Tara Elmer.

The girls laugh.

"I guess we're living together, Tara,” Ramirez says.

The girls decide to split the two-bedroom apartment bill  $362.50 each per month. It could be worse.

As Ramirez tries to decide where to go next, she glares at the student loan table overseen by Derek Andrews and Samantha Kessler.

“I need to do financial aid at some point," Ramirez says. "But not now. I'm going to put that off as long as I can."

Ramirez decides instead to buy a car.

That's got to be cheap, right?

It can be, according to local auto dealer Phil Watt.

“The thing you need to remember about cars is that if a car gets you from point A to point B, it's a good car," Watt says.

Ramirez smiles and nods. Best to go with the practical: a used 2006 Corolla.

“I could probably buy a better car,” Ramirez says. “But I'd rather play it safe." 

So far so good. Ramirez takes a deep breath and walks over to Kessler. Kessler tells Ramirez that she will owe the University

of Wyoming $98,680 by the time she graduates with her nursing degree. And yes, the Hathaway Scholarship is included in that number. Any other financial aid and scholarships aren't included.

Ramirez says a silent prayer that some of the scholarships she's applied for will come through as Kessler calculates her monthly student loan payment: $822.33.

And she'll only have to pay that every month for the next 10 years.

"Believe it or not, we've actually seen much bigger numbers than yours today," Andrews says to Ramirez.

Small comfort.

Inside the folder that Ramirez received before the game was a thin slip of blue paper. The paper informed her that she had experienced a tire blowout on her Corolla. This is what Aubrey calls a life event.

“Life is going to happen, and sometimes it sucks," Aubrey said. "But you always have to pay for it." 

Ramirez goes to Marianne Knapp for the tire repair. There are two pieces of good news. One, it will only cost $164. Two, because this is a rare unexpected expense, Aubrey is giving her permission to dip into her $2,000 savings account. Her checking account isn't going to feel the sting this time.

Next, Ramirez meets with Nick Smith to talk car insurance. She decides on full liability coverage.

"That's almost more expensive than the car itself," Ramirez says.

But wait there's more.

"Would you like rental insurance?" Smith asks. "It ensures the items in your apartment are insured if there is a fire or a break in. And it's only $10 a month." 

"Let's do it," Ramirez says.

At this point, Ramirez takes a break to assess the damage. After depositing the recommended 10% from her checking account to her savings account, she still has a little over $1,000.

"Sounds like you can go to Vegas," teacher Cody Koch jokes.

“Or I can put my leftover money in savings," Ramirez says. "I'm thinking that might be the better option."

After purchasing internet and cell phone service, Ramirez is down to $875. She allocates a few hundred for what Aubrey calls "I want" expenses — eating out, trips to the movies, etc. The other

$570 she's putting into savings, she says, because next month's bills are around the corner.

So it turns out that Shelley Ramirez is, in fact, not a millionaire. But she is a little richer for the Real Life Game experience, according to event co-organizer Dustin Sipe.

"Whether you make a lot or a little, you'll spend it," Sipe said. "We hope this experience opens your eyes to how much things cost, and hopefully you'll be able to make some wise financial decisions in the future."