Poor financial decisions can lead to catastrophe. For Masuk students, it’s only a simulation

MONROE, CT — It takes wise decisions to successfully manage a household budget. Living beyond your means by running up credit card debt, taking on a high car payment and dining out too often, can easily throw things out of whack, while making it hard to pay monthly bills and the mortgage on time.

Even when you do everything right, life can throw you a curve ball, from expensive car repairs to unexpected healthcare needs.

Masuk High School students in Jonelle DiSette’s personal finance class will get a dose of reality courtesy of the Rotary Club of Monroe. Reality Check, a financial and budget simulation event, will be held Tuesday, May 17.

“It’s terrific,” said Dave Wolfe, a Rotary Club member who proposed offering the program at Masuk. “I wish my kids had the opportunity to go to a class like this. I wish I had the opportunity!”

Wolfe remembers getting his own “reality check” when he was a young man. Wolfe was not used to paying for his clothes. After getting his first job, Wolfe’s uncle, who was in the clothing business, opened an account for him. One day, his uncle asked him if he wanted to pay the balance.

“Oh my God! This costs money,” Wolfe recalled his reaction to seeing the bill, “and I was getting a 40 percent discount. That was my reality check.”

Reality Check is patterned after a program at the Yukon Public Schools in Oklahoma. Wolfe said he learned about it from a Facebook post. The objective of the simulation is to balance everything at the end of the month — with money left over.

“I thought it was an interesting idea. I contacted the woman who made the post and she gave me a summary of what to do,” Wolfe recalled. “This is the first time we’re doing it. We’re hoping it will be something we can run annually.”

Wolfe reached out to Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza, who gave his support.

“Ms. DiSette’s personal finance class is one of our most popular electives at Masuk,” Kobza said. “This program provides a great opportunity for our students to implement the lessons they’ve learned in the classroom to a real life simulation.”

“I’m extremely grateful to the Monroe Rotary Club for bringing this program to us and organizing the throngs of volunteers to ensure that it’s successful,” he added. “It’s such a great experience to watch the school and community come together once again. It’s what makes Monroe such a special place.”

Wheel of Misfortune

In Reality Check, each student will be assigned a career and given a monthly salary — after taxes. The list of careers include a broad array of jobs and salaries.

“We’re trying to make it as realistic as possible,” Wolfe said of salaries and expenses. “It won’t be 100 percent. We’ll try to make it fun, but very realistic.”

Students will have to budget their income to buy products and services. Booths will be set up with volunteers from the business community to present the different options.

Businesses and services will include insurance, transportation, housing, clothing, furniture, entertainment and more. For example, students will have the choice of “purchasing” one of four new or used vehicles.

Wolfe said they will have to consider the best option based on the cost of the vehicles, projected fuel expenses and insurance. Students will also have payments for student loans, car loans and mortgages.

“Sometimes the least expensive option isn’t the best or what you want and what you need,” Wolfe explained.

The simulation also includes savings. Students will have the opportunity to allocate an amount for a retirement fund.

“We’re going to throw some curve balls at them too,” Wolfe said. “We’ll have a Wheel of Misfortune. You take a chance and spin the wheel. You may lose money or earn money from it with a raise or a bonus.”

Midway through the program the students will receive their second month’s salary and continue to make monthly payments for loans, as well as new purchases. This will give them an opportunity to adjust their spending, based on their first month results.

The simulation will take place in one class on May 17. “Then afterwards the teacher will do a follow up with them on strategies they used and didn’t use,” Wolfe said.

Volunteers needed

The Rotary Club is working closely with Kobza, Assistant Principal Mark Schwarz and DiSette to plan the event.

Dennis Condon, president of the Monroe Rotary, said, “our hope is to provide a real-world type of perspective to the students. We believe this can become an important and worthwhile annual event.”

The Rotary Club will need adult volunteers for each of the booths. While all are welcome to participate, in some cases, professionals in the business or service discipline — such as insurance and real estate — will be required. The club will provide key talking points.

For information, send an email to Bob Guere at [email protected].

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