By HEATHER POYNER
KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — As Wisconsin contractors struggle to convince high school students that college is not necessarily the only pathway to success, students at Tremper High School in Kenosha recently got a chance to learn about the financial consequences of different career decisions.
For a few hours on Wednesday, Tyler Raymundo, a senior at the school, got to pretend to be a lawyer and a divorced father of an 11-month old child.
In a little over an hour, Raymundo soon found that, even on a salary of $3,900 a month, it would be hard to make ends meet.
Chris Burgess, a junior, did a bit better. He too was a divorced father with an 11-month-old child, but he managed to make his $4,900-a-month salary as an industrial designer pay for his needs and leave some cash to spare.
Making wise financial choices was the lesson of the day for Raymundo, Burgess and other Tremper students as they went through Reality Check, a crash course on life choices and budgeting.
“Reality Check is a financial simulation that fits into our curriculum,” according to Sue Pacetti, business teacher and department chairwoman.
As construction companies have tried to re-fill their ranks following the latest recession, many have found themselves struggling against the commonly held biases against blue-collar occupations. The need for new workers remains strong. According to survey results released by the Associated General Contractors of America last week, 75% of the contractors polled said they plan to hire additional employees next year. And 81% said they expect to have trouble filling positions for hourly and salaried craft workers.
At Tremper High School on Wednesday, Reality Check sessions were presented to 194 students taking classes on money management. With resources provided by Educators Credit Union, this was the 37th time that Reality Check had been offered to students, Pacetti told the Kenosha News.
Before the exercise had begun, Brian Gonzales, outreach coordinator for the credit union, dispensed a bit of advice.
“I recommend you make larger purchases first, like housing,” he said.
“We talk about the importance of making credit card payments on time, and if they run out of money, they have to take something back,” said Victor Frasher, director of community engagement for the credit union.
Income and expenses
After choosing an occupation with a specific salary, the students visited 10 stations to buy things needed in their new lives. The stations offered food, clothing, transportation, housing, insurance and, for some, child care.
The goal of the hour-and-a-half assignment was to not go over budget, Pacetti said.
At each station, teachers and volunteers dispensed advice on everything that was up for purchase.
About midway through, Raymundo and Burgess were waiting in line to budget their groceries and dining-out expenses.
“We both started with child care expenses because we both happen to have an 11-month-old child and wanted to take care of them first,” Burgess said.
“I see you’re a lawyer,” said the teacher Jennie Krass to Raymundo. “If you’re a lawyer, it might look sort of bad if you’re eating all that frozen food.”
Referring to his dining-out budget, she said, “You might have to wine-and-dine your clients and not take them to McDonald’s.”
“When they explain the sheets, it gives you a perspective of the choices,” Burgess said.
“They reminded me that if I’m a lawyer, I have to make choices that make me look nice,” Raymundo said.
Although both students said they’ve had some real jobs and budgeting experience, they still found Reality Check enlightening.
“It opens our eyes to what life really is and what things cost,” Raymundo said.
Both were surprised by the Wheel of Chance — a wheel each student had to spin to summon up some sort of imaginary event that could either provide a windfall or take money out of their wallets.
“I made $240 from a rummage sale but then had a traffic violation because I didn’t stop for a stop sign and that cost me $160,” Raymundo said.
“I lost my wallet on the way to the hospital and then found out I had strep throat,” Burgess said. “It’s just stuff you can’t plan for.”
“It’s ironic and cool to see,” Burgess said. “It’s good preparation for how things could be.”
Making wise choices
Those who went over budget were sent to Educators Credit Union volunteers, who advised them on possible remedies. Often they suggested the student sell a luxury item or choose a more economical selection.
“Housing didn’t go so well for me,” Raymundo admitted at the end of the session. “I dipped into minus $13 so decided to take the bus instead of having a car.”
Burgess fared a bit better. “I had $500 remaining at the end of the month — a good chunk of change,” he said.
Pacetti noted that students are graded on the assignment for their ability to stay within the budget and making it to all stations.
“It’s not realistic to eat cheap and buy the most expensive car,” Pacetti said. “Their grade shows they are making smart choices.”
– Dan Shaw of The Daily Reporter contributed to this article.