WALLINGFORD — The carefully crafted financial plans local high school students created during the Credit For Life event could be thrown into disarray by a car breaking down or a hospital visit.
The initiative brought around 500 sophomores from the town’s two high schools to the Parks and Recreation Department Tuesday for the sixth year of the financial literacy program, which is patterned after the board game Life. Students met with a guidance counselor to choose a career and were assigned an income and credit score for the exercise.
“They navigate through a month ... then they have to go back to their financial advisor to add up their income minus expenses and determine where they are,” School Supoerintendent Salvatore Menzo said.
Around 70 volunteers participated, including business leaders who helped students cut their expenses and real estate agents who helped with housing.
Board of Education Chair Karen Hlavac said the program prepares students for life.
“It’s a great opportunity for our students to learn how to budget, that’s a very important skill that they’re going to need going forward,” she said. “And I like the idea that it’s done in their sophomore year, so it gets them to thinking about this so that as they’re going through their junior and senior years in high school they can implement some of the things they’ve learned.”
Once they subtracted a quarter of their income for taxes students began navigating student loans, groceries, health care and clothing costs. Volunteers for each category helped students with things like rent costs in different communities, car loans and car insurance.
As students flooded into the recreation department’s gym, questions about credit scores and car loans floated through the air. One student committed to an apartment and then moved to the next table for furniture.
“If I have a house, doesn’t the furniture come with the house?” he asked.
Students also had to pay two visits to the wheel of chance, where they could inherit money or end up with an expensive visit to the hospital.
“With the chance wheel, most often it’s not always a good thing. And so that’s why savings is important, because you might have that month where you do have a flat tire,” Menzo said.
Town Economic Development Specialist Tim Ryan, who was serving as one of the financial advisors, said the initiative can help students realize that balancing their budget comes down to a simple equation — spending less than you earn.
“Sometimes it’s not necessarily about the exact numbers, it’s about the concept of where the numbers fit in the scheme of things and just saying that it’s a fundamental equation. You’ve got to make more than you spend,” he said.
Ayush Patel, 15, said the event helped him understand what he could expect after he graduates college with an engineering degree, which is his goal.
“I just didn’t know my monthly salary is going to be this low, but that’s because I’m a first year starter,” he said.