They may not be dealing with cold hard cash, but, on paper at least,90 fifth-grade students are discovering money matters this month.

Carrolltowne Elementary math classes have exchanged texts for checks-- handmade and personal -- and are concentrating on individual budgets and the intricacies of family finance.

The students deal with checks and balances, direct deposits and withdrawals in the 16-hour money- management unit.

Like many of their parents, the children try to stretch weekly wages to meet mortgageand car payments, buy groceries and an occasional luxury item.

They learn how to invest income and how to deal with "surprise" expenses.

In the world of fifth-grade finance, each day represents a week. Each child receives a "weekly" $575 salary, automatically depositedto their accounts in the Cardinal Bank of Sykesville. Every fourth day -- or once a month -- the bank deducts an $850 mortgage payment.

"I also make a $250 car payment for my Lamborghini and $90 a week for day care," said Greta Roy, 10. "I had enough left to buy a VCR andgive $10 to charity."

Banker Sharema Smith, 10, collects and stamps checks, files them by name and uses a calculator to balance the books. She is quick to point out oversights to her teacher, Nancy James.

A detention slip or missing homework becomes a $50 fine this month. With a few of those attached to a salary, Greta said, a young homeowner could find herself in difficult financial straits.

One student will learn the pitfalls of careless banking the hard way, said Cindy Taylor, one of four teachers on the team. Among the child's canceled checks will be an unexpected $1,000 debit.

"She signed a blankcheck to the teacher in charge of detention," said Taylor. "We usually charge $50, but with this check the sky was the limit."

The teachers also are offering investment opportunities. Larry Henning, who developed the lesson plans, explained the advantages in savings accounts, demonstrating several options.

"You can earn money by puttingyour dollars in the bank," he told the students.

"My bank will give you 5 percent, if you invest $500 for two days."

Through faultyfiguring, one student estimated a $2,500 return on that transaction and wanted to sign up immediately. Henning gave the eager investor a quick lesson in decimals.

Every student had to invest, the teachersaid, leaving the time and amount to individual discretion. After explaining the options, Henning reminded the children they would have no access to the money until the end of the term.

"Interest is a good deal, so take a risk," he said. "But, before you decide, remember the mortgage or what could happen to the car."

Henning said he didn't plan to change the "billing schedule" drastically.

"They will get a few surprises -- like an emergency car repair," he said. "That's life."

Fear of homelessness made for many conservative investors.

"I am going to save $100 for three days," said Kathryn Stephenson, 10, as she deducted that amount from her register. "I don't want to end up in the homeless shelter."

The children also are learning lessons in charity. They have established a homeless fund for any classmates who find themselves destitute and "deskless." To date, the "poor" have about $1,000 in donations available.

"It's a sign of thetimes," said their teacher, Nancy James. "They see and hear stories of the homeless all the time."

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