Trystan Wilcox learned a simple lesson Tuesday morning: “Some things just don’t need to be bought.”
The Southeast High School senior had just completed the Big Bank Theory, a 90-minute exercise in real-world budgeting.
Wilcox and all of her classmates had received a unique life situation. Some were married, some had children, some were high school dropouts and others were college graduates. But they all had to figure out how to pay their monthly bills.
This fall, all seniors in Manatee County high schools will complete the program, which is run by the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.
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Some things just don’t need to be bought.
Trystan Wilcox, Southeast High School senior
After receiving a sheet detailing their job, income after taxes, education level, family status and number of dependents, the students circulated through 14 stations. They had to make choices on housing, childcare, transportation and a myriad of other expenses, with the goal of having money left over for savings each month.
The goal was more difficult for some than others. Annual incomes for the 121 possible jobs ranged from $17,000 to $70,000, based on data from the Department of Labor, said Chamber vice president of community development Jahna Allen.
The adults running each station suppressed grins as they surprised the teens with some of the unpleasant realities of adult life.
Anthony Gagliano, the director of business and economic development for CareerSource Suncoast, manned one of the least popular stops on the journey: the insurance station.
“My health insurance took all the money from my second job,” one student exclaimed as he walked away from Gagliano’s booth.
“They were buying car and health and dental and life (insurance) — it all adds up really quickly. Some went from having several thousand in their checking account to several hundred,” Gagliano said. “It’s an eye opener for these 17- and 18-year-olds.”
I’m going to go home and apologize to my parents.
Logan Sweetin, Southeast High School senior
Logan Sweetin, one of several students waiting in line for a second job, had been dealt a particularly tough hand. A married high school dropout with one child making $18,000 a year as a stock clerk, Sweetin said the litany of bad choices his character had made included having a child without the means to provide. He said he had not realized how expensive children are to raise.
“I’m going to go home and apologize to my parents,” he said.
After getting his “wife” a job, Sweetin needed transportation. He considered a motorcycle for $159 a month and asked how much a sidecar would cost for his wife and child. He eventually settled for two $60 bus passes.
Several students who wanted second jobs walked away empty-handed once they realized most of their earnings would go toward the additional child care a second job necessitated.
Maria Cecilia Alvarado was assigned to be an unmarried mother working as a secretary for $23,040. She said the exercise made her reconsider what was most important in a career.
“Before I thought I would take any job, as long as I’m happy,” Alvarado said. “Now I’m thinking, even if it’s really hard and I don’t like it, get that money.”