The real world beckons
Students spend a day in the future managing a budget, making tough decisions
By Eileen Persike
Buy or rent? Leather or microfiber? Donate to charity or open a savings account? These are just a few of the questions Rhinelander High School seniors wrestled with Tuesday during Mad Money, a financial simulation exercise.
“We’re going to be in the real world soon and we have to get a grasp on how bill paying and stuff is going to go,” Megann Gerdes said. “We’re just not going to have a lot of money; it goes quickly with all the bills and stuff.”
Students were allowed a couple of career options, but were assigned salaries, student loan and credit card debt, spouses and children–in some cases a child with no spouse, and a laundry list of purchases and expenses to manage. The program is sponsored by Partners in Education, a Rhinelander business organization that promotes educational opportunities in the district.
Local insurance and real estate agents, financial institutions, a car dealer, furniture, grocery and cell phone stores, the United Way and daycare providers volunteered their time to help the young adults navigate through a day in the lives of their future selves. First time participant, Rhinelander Trig’s Store Manager Don Theisen, said the exercise was valuable.
“I thought it was awesome, thought it was very good for the kids,” Theisen remarked. “I was very surprised by the students, how well they were budgeting their money, knew exactly what they could spend and what they had and they were looking at the options and making wise decisions. I was very, very impressed and can’t wait to do it again.”
Olivia Bowman was a music teacher Tuesday morning, which is something she hopes to become one day for real. From her experience, growing up with a single mom who is a teacher, Bowman said it was pretty realistic. Her “spouse” didn’t have a good-paying job and they had a child to care for all while making ends meet.
“I think it was realistic for starting wages because I think a lot of teenagers don’t realize you don’t necessarily start where you think,” she explained. “Teachers can make $60,000 a year, but when you start you only make about half of that. I think it was a nice simulation because it was realistic to show where you would start and how difficult it could be if you want luxuries as opposed to actual needs.”
On the other end of spectrum was Tra’vel Boykin, who drew the doctor card Tuesday.
“In some way, shape or form I want to be in the medical field,” Boykin said. “My grandma is a doctor and she was the only other person in my family to go to college.”
When it came to purchasing decisions, Boykin didn’t hold back and was able to buy a lot of high-end things. “It really isn’t surprising in that sense since a doctor or someone in that position would be able to do that and still have a little bit of comfort money because if you put in the hard work it’s definitely going to pay off,” he said.
What was surprising? The cost of daycare was a near unanimous decision. Boykin and his physical therapist “wife” would have to spend almost $1,500 per month to put their five month old twins in daycare.
“It surprised me that my fake family made almost $4,000 a month and it still wasn’t enough to get rid of my credit card debt,” said Mitchel Modic. “And I didn’t put anything in savings, really.”
And Modic didn’t have any money to set aside for charitable giving, either. Northwoods United Way Executive Director Nancy Sattler said she tried to encourage the students to write their charitable giving check early on, before they spend any extra money on a fancy dinner or a new cell phone, but that didn’t always work.
“I did have some good conversations with them about why it’s good to give back to the community and how that helps them in the future,” Sattler said. “We’re there if they ever need the help –so give when they can give and know that we’re there when they need help.”
The afternoon session included mock job interviews, tips on how to write a resume and cover letter, and understanding pay stubs.