Microeconomics 101

Lee St. John, a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, is a #1 Amazon ranked humorous author. Look for her on Facebook, Twitter (@LeeStJohnauthor), and on her blog at www.leestjohnauthor.com.

I wasted this great lesson plan on a room full of 6th graders. Or did I? It wasn’t a waste, really, except 6th graders don’t remember much about middle school. And this lesson was an important one.
I was conducting an economic exercise. I took a break from teaching before our second baby was born and sold real estate for John Wieland. If you know his business theory, he builds neighborhood friendly homes around clubhouses, Olympic size swimming pools for swim meets but also with slides for the kiddies, nature trails, etc. His business has/had its own lumber, real estate, interior design, and financing companies under one roof. He sold houses like car dealers sell cars: choose a house plan, then for ‘such-in-such’ price (which was pre-set), you can have more – like all brick, or a garden tub, maybe a screen porch, or that sunroom. Just tack it on to the base price of the house. Every purchaser is really not so individualistic after all. It’s pre-arranged. You can get extra on that base plan– if you pay for it.
What was the point I was making? A REAL-LIFE-WAKE-UP-CALL.
Remember Parade magazine that was a supplement to the Atlanta Journal Constitution? Every year they featured on their front page “What People Earn”. On that yearly cover, tiny little portraits of about 100 people from every walk of life were featured with their occupation and income. I cut out those pictures and placed males’ images in one envelope and females’ in another. There were incomes ranging from under $10,000 to over a million. People in the service industry, teachers, postal workers, professional football players, models, car salesmen, dentists…you name it. A variety of people from different ages, backgrounds, colors, and education were all featured.
The male students picked a random person from the male envelope and the females from theirs. I began my lesson: “Here’s an average house. And its cost to build on an average lot is ‘$whatever$.” I described down payment, private mortgage insurance, home owners insurance, utilities, etc. I mentioned if they bought a car what monthly payments might be for that also, and I mentioned possible grocery costs.
Then, after explaining what all was involved with debt, I randomly picked students to reveal their income from the people they chose from the envelopes. Then I placed a carrot in front of them – another house – this time one with all the bells and whistles.
“I WANT a garden tub,” some would say.
“You can’t afford it,” I answered to several. “But those with the large incomes can.”
“And I want that screen porch!”
“You can’t get it. Not with your down payment. If you want to put more down, banks might lower your mortgage. Unless you’ve saved enough, you won’t be able to change the numbers on that.”
“But, I want it!”
“Yeah, well, maybe if you were married. A dual income changes everything. You probably could afford it then.”
Wait a minute. I could see the light bulbs go off in their 12-year-old heads!
And then the scrambling started. Boys were chasing the most financially successful girls and girls were trying to catch the most prosperous boys. All over the classroom you heard, “Will you marry me?”
And now the other lesson learned was that these pretend professionals who had either advanced degrees or somehow worked hard toward an end goal of comfortable wealth realized they didn’t NEED a partner. Male and female students, because of the luck in their chosen person, actually realized the importance of being profitable enough and what it brought to the playing field. They could do it alone if they wanted. They had a choice.
I do hope their adolescent brains retained something from this.

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