BRADENTON -- As a 25-year-old married graphic designer with two children making just more than $30,000 a year -- boiling down to about $2,714 a month -- Steven Acre's first purchase was a BMW, to travel to and from work and transport his family.
The BMW purchase cost $740 a month. Acre also purchased a home for him and his family to share. But as he made his way through other monthly payments that every 25-year-old incurs, Acre hit a snag. He didn't have enough money to pay for child care for his two children.
"I had to take the BMW back, now I ride the bus," said Acre, who is actually an 18-year-old senior at Bayshore High School. Acre learned the hard way that budgeting as an adult isn't quite as easy as he expected.
Acre and the rest of the seniors at Bayshore High School are the first Manatee County seniors this year getting a dose of reality through the Big Bank Theory, a financial literacy program that aims
to help students prepare for the financial responsibilities of being 25. Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Diana Green on Monday attended the Bayshore program, which was sponsored through a partnership with the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and the Suncoast Credit Union Foundation, on behalf of the district.
Students were given a random life situation when they entered the gym at Bayshore. Yearly salaries for the students ranged between $17,000 and $75,000. Some students were married, some were single. Some had no children, others had multiple.
Students were required to make basic decisions, such as housing, transportation, utilities, clothing, food and insurance by visiting different stations set up in the gym, staffed by community volunteers.
Students also were required to visit the "that's life" booth, which dealt them a random card of chance, ranging from speeding tickets to unexpected birthday money.
For Lisette Torres, the random life drawing was a broken TV. She could either pay $750 up front for a new TV or start on a monthly payment plan of $35. Although Torres wanted to pay for the TV up front, as a single mother with two children working as a bank teller and taking in $1688 a month, she couldn't afford to do so. She settled on the installment plan.
"I'll just pay it off monthly," she said.
Life's lessons early
Between now and the end of December, every Manatee County High School senior will go through the same simulations Torres and Acre had to go through. Some will breeze through the event, with higher education and higher salaries making the choices easier. Other will struggle to make ends meet and may need to seek bankruptcy counseling.
By the end of 90 minutes, students were expected to have met all their expenses and either have money left over in their checking or have moved some money to savings or retirement. While the simulation may not be the perfect exercise, it helps give students a window into their upcoming financial decisions, said Jahna Leinhauser, the assistant vice president of community development for the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce.
"The students don't realize how expensive things are," she said. "This gives them a glimpse."
While the glimpse for some students was a stark awakening, Greene said she was surprised at how many students already had plans in place. Greene, who worked the housing table at the event, counseled students who were deciding to rent or buy a home and helped them try to realistically choose a size home that would fit their needs.
"I'm surprised by students' reactions when we tell them it can be cheaper to own a home than to rent," Greene said. "Today's been only pleasant surprises."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.