LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Living through a still-recovering economy isn't easy.
Even if you're a high school senior.
Lakewood Ranch High School senior Andrew Ezazi is the single provider for his family and lives paycheck to paycheck. He's contemplating asking his wife, a stay-at-home mom with their 6-month-old baby, to find employment because he can no longer keep up with the $400 monthly grocery bills.
Channing Weir, also a senior at Lakewood Ranch, is a low-income secretary without a college degree. She was forced to rent out space in her home to a friend to help keep a roof over the heads of her unemployed husband and 4-year-old child.
Fortunately for these seniors, their situations are fictitious. The scenarios are a part of the Big Bank Theory, a two-day financial simulation program for Manatee County high school seniors.
On Friday, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Manatee Community Federal Credit Union, visited Lakewood Ranch High in its second installment of the program.
Business volunteers from several local companies like Tropicana, the University of South Florida and a local television station, visit schools and help seniors through scenarios that deal with the financial responsibilities of housing, utilities, transportation, food, clothing, employment and childcare.
Students are asked to make decisions appropriate for their household.
"It was pretty insightful and enlightening," Ezazi said.
"It shows you how much everything really costs," said Chase Comnin, a senior at Lakewood Ranch.
Comnin's simulation taught him how random life occurrences can become burdensome. His car stereo and cell phone suddenly stopped working and he couldn't afford to replace them until he inherited some money from a family member.
The program aims to help teens who may lack experience in making good financial decisions.
"It's not too early to learn about budgeting and financing, but also life planning," said Jahna Leinhauser, the chamber's assistant vice president of community development. During the pilot launch of the program last year, Leinhauser said a graduating senior didn't plan to attend college changed his mind after participating in the program.
"He realized how important it was," she said.
The program has made stops at Bayshore, Palmetto, Southeast and Lakewood Ranch schools. Braden River and Manatee will be the final schools on the tour.
"It's all about budgeting and making good decisions," said Michelle Todoroff, career adviser at Lakewood Ranch.
The students understand financial hardships are a reality most Americans face today.
"It was nice to see what we had to do if things went wrong," Weir said.
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams