Rhinelander Partners in Education (PIE) held their 3rd annual Mad Money financial simulation Tuesday, Feb. 26, at Rhinelander High School. More than 200 11th grade students attended the event, which offers them experience with budgeting techniques for personal expenses ranging from home mortgages and insurance payments to day care fees and grocery bills that most working adults deal with on a regular basis.
From 8 to 11 a.m. in the Jim Miazga Gymnasium at RHS, students visited booths at which many local businesses were represented. More than 20 businesses, among them Ripco Credit Union, Wisconsin Public Service, Rhinelander GM & Honda, Frontier Communications and First Weber Group, participated in the event and provided information that realistically portrayed the actual cost of living in the Rhinelander area.
Each student was allowed to choose a career path, but was assigned information about his or her simulated adult situation, including spouse’s occupation, number of children and existing expenses including student loans and credit card debts. With their simulated careers and family statuses, each student had to balance his or her designated monthly income while visiting stations that demanded portions of their salary. The students’ monthly earnings and family statuses determined their purchasing abilities for a home or vehicle and gave them an idea of the actual cost of auto insurance and numerous services that require payments each month.
Students were given a taste of writing checks and balancing a checkbook as they were responsible for paying their energy and Internet bills. Frontier Communications local manager Julie Berndt noted that many of the students had their first experience writing a check, saying, “A lot of the students had questions about filling out a check and balancing their checkbook after making a payment.” Berndt also said students were amazed at the actual cost of services and many gained a better understanding of the financial constraints their families face every month. “The amounts listed, from home ownership to vehicle insurance, are all realistically priced for the area,” she noted. “This simulation gives the students a better idea of where their family’s monthly income is distributed.”
Junior Jayla Paulson, who selected a career as a financial planner at the simulation, admitted that the businesses did a great job of portraying accurate prices and expenses, although the low mortgage rates on some of the listings surprised her. “This activity is a cool way for us to get an idea on budgeting our money wisely and how certain jobs and salaries can really impact how much there is to spend,” she said.
Although a variety of automobiles, homes and leisure items were available, students had to make sure they had an adequate amount of money in their checking accounts in order to make a simulated purchase. First Weber Group realtor Dan Huhnstock said, “Students had to find a home within their budget, which most of them took seriously. We’d have the occasional student purchase the most expensive home we offered and end up having to trade it in for a home within their financial means.” Most students took the simulation activity seriously, Huhnstock noted. “The kids really got a feel for the actual budgeting process as we displayed real home listings within the Northwoods, along with their actual mortgage price. We even had students who budgeted their income so closely they were able to make additional home purchases to gain secondary income as landlords.”
The success of the event continues to grow each year. “A lot of these kids don’t realize just how important balancing finances is, even at an early age,” said PIE president and Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lara Reed. “Not only do the students gain knowledge on real-life budgeting, they also walk away with an entirely new respect for what their parents and families are responsible for doing each month.”