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“I’m really broke,” said Cerro Gordo High School senior Bailey Runyen as he took part the Welcome to the Real World financial planning activity at Bement High School last week.
“I’m already $33 under and haven’t bought food. Guess I’ll go hungry,” Runyen added light-heartedly.
But that is precisely the point organizers of the Feb. 20 event were trying to pound home at the simulation: That before long these high schoolers will be faced with the reality of managing a budget.
“It’s the little things they overlook,” said Joscyln Mohr, the family consumer science teacher for Atwood-Hammond, which along with Cerro Gordo and Bement brought high school students to the event planned by Bement High School, State Bank and the U of I Extension in Piatt County.
She said high schoolers may be aware of things such as food and rent, but often forget to budget for internet access, gasoline and car maintenance.
Upon arriving, participants chose their desired career path, which determined a monthly amount they would have to spend. Students then proceeded through stations that included insurance, transportation, housing and entertainment and made choices within those budgetary constraints. For example, under transportation students could go with everything from a luxury car down to the cheapest option – a bus pass.
“I did not know I was going to spend that much on an apartment,” said Sarah Blaine, another Cerro Gordo student who wants to be an engineer. She said her desire to live in a large city could translate into a $900 per month rent. But by settling on a compact car, “I’ll stay with it (apartment in the city).”
If that career path pans out, she will likely have more to spend in the real world than Runyen, who plans to pursue coaching.
Being forced to face financial choices is exactly what Bement Career Education Coordinator Cathy Flood had in mind when organizing this year’s seminar.
“It helps them realize that they’re going to have to make some decisions. So many kids end up with debt because they don’t use their credit cards or debit cards wisely. This gives them an overall picture of what’s in store for them – especially after they don’ have the safety net of their mom and dad,” said Flood.
She said it also helps to have such information before settling on a career choice.
“I tell students to do something they love, but to be realistic about it, because if a certain lifestyle is important to you, then you need a career that can provide that kind of lifestyle,” added Flood.
The seminar has been an annual event for over a decade. In the past it was accomplished with the help of Junior Achievement of Decatur, but that group has disbanded. That resulted in the partnership with the U of I Extension, which helped provide the structure and handouts for the different stations. The State Bank of Bement and State Bank of Cerro Gordo sponsor the annual gathering, and provide mock checks and debit cards for the high school participants.
In addition, about 30 volunteers helped run the event. Students took about 30 to 60 minutes to make the rounds, then filled out surveys on what they thought of the activity.
“It’s a tough road for these kids,” added Mohr. “The economy and market are not in their favor.”
And that means making choices. Like maybe less entertainment for Jordan Underwood, who wants to be a paramedic after graduating from Cerro Gordo High School.
“The insurance was actually less than I thought it would be,” he said. But emergency service is not the highest paying occupation, so he was not able to budget any dollars for entertainment.
“But I’ll probably be working most of the time,” added Underwood. “Working and sleeping.”
The event was held in the Bement Grade School gymnasium.