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Students get taste of finances, budgets

Cary Ashby • Updated Oct 16, 2019 at 9:35 AM

With two stations left in the Finances 101 event, Willard High School junior Brianna Montgomery already was in debt.

Assigned to be a security guard, she was making about $1,500 a month in the educational activity modeled after the board game “Life.” Students from New London, Norwalk, South Central, St. Paul, Western Reserve and Willard participated in the annual event Thursday hosted and coordinated by Firelands Federal Credit Union.

“Since I have five people in my household, I went into debt pretty early on,” Montgomery said.

“What really got me was groceries; that was 900 bucks,” added the teenager, who wasn’t necessarily shocked because she often goes shopping with her family.

The students heard about general financial information and made budgetary decisions while visiting 10 stations. Nicole Jones, FFCU vice president of marketing, said the teenagers often are surprised at how much certain things cost, such as childcare.

“In certain parts of the game it may be understated compared to what it is in real life,” she added. “I think there is a lot of practical stuff that we talk about here. We teach them how to write a check; we talk to them about credit card debt and how it’s best to pay it down as quickly as you can and pay it in full if you can.

“They have to keep in consideration the whole way through (the game) that they’re not done,” Jones said. “At the beginning of the month when you get your paycheck, it looks like a lot, but it disappears pretty quickly.”

Willard junior Mckenna Stephens, with two stations left to go in Finances 101 — credit cards and entertainment — was on the plus side with $1,200 left to spend. 

“It’s really not going bad. I haven’t gone into debt yet, so that’s good and I only have one kid,” she said.

Stephens was assigned to be a chef who makes $2,300 a month.

“But it could go down really fast,” the teenager said. “I learned you have to go for the littlest price sometimes just to get your way to other things.”

The junior used the example of her Finances 101 housing.

“Since I only have a family of three, I just got an apartment that I’m only paying $550 a month for, instead of a house,” Stephens said.

Many of the students experienced “sticker shock” at various costs.

“If you end up with a large family on a tight budget, it’s very eye-opening for a lot of the students,” Jones said.

“We always encourage them to pull out 10 percent and save (money); pay yourself first. So we have them do that upfront. At any point in the game, if they need that money, they can add that back in.”

Willard students agreed that Finances 101 was an eye-opening experience.

“I knew that groceries cost a lot, but I didn’t know it would take out that much. For a family of three, it took out $571,” Stephens said.

Ashley Pechauer, a staff accountant with Payne Nickles & Co., was one of the guides. The 2016 Norwalk High School graduate said her messages to the students were about “how to make your life decisions with credit card debt, how to pay off your student loans and just help them see the reality of what’s next and set them up for a good future.”

“My role has been to be a guide for these kids and guide them through these life choices and give them my experiences after graduating from high school,” she added.

When it comes to budgeting, students need to know how much money they can spend and do so within their means, Pechauer said.

“Don’t overspend, for sure,” she added. “I’ve just told them all (to) set yourself up for a job that makes money, but make sure you enjoy it. It’s not all about the money, but you can tailor your life decisions to your job. Make sure you’re happy first.”

Montgomery said the biggest lesson she learned is the need to get a better paying job and “don’t have kids.”

“Make sure you know what you’re doing before you have them,” the teenager added.

A variety of people assisted with Finances 101.

“We have 65 volunteers from various walks of life in the community. Some are retired. We have banks and other credit union employees who come and help us, which is awesome,” Jones said. “(There is) a lot of variety and a lot of people who return year to year because they really like the event.”

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