For more than 200 students in the Quincy school system, playing the game of life came with some surprising and not so fun realities — mostly because the game involved devising an adult-life budget, and their income was based on their prospective jobs.
In its fifth year, the Credit for Life Fair for high school seniors enrolled in some sort of business class can be a wake-up call, as students bounce from table to table at the morning event and watch their play money be consumed by real-life expenses.
“It’s certainly very positive,” said Keith Segalla, who directs career and technical education for Quincy’s school district. “It’s real life . . . they have an appreciation for exactly how to budget and what it entails, and some of the challenges of having a budget.”
The point of the exercise is to arm soon-to-be grads with basic financial literacy skills, in an effort to round out their experiences beyond academics.
Following in the footsteps of the Brockton and Stoughton school districts, Quincy has a renewed emphasis on this type of education, and officials are optimistic that this program and others will have long-term benefits.
“I think what matters is that we push for them to be academically core-driven, MCAS testing and so forth. This just brings them back to reality,” said Virginia Fidalgo, head of the career and technology department at North Quincy High. “When they do something like this, they make the connections.”
Students who participated in the event late last month were handed a partially filled-out budget, with their annual salary given, taxes deducted, student loan payments calculated, and a credit card limit prearranged.
Students went to booths throughout the room to figure out their remaining expenses, from clothing to retirement savings.
More than 70 volunteers from Quincy businesses help out at the event, staffing booths in their specialties, and underwriting the cost.
“We find most of the students need this kind of event,” said Judy Brazil, senior vice president of marketing for Quincy Credit Union. “Financial literacy is very big in the credit union banking world; the mission to start educating students young on this information is huge.”
Hearing the students talk about the experience is almost like sitting with a group of twentysomethings in a bar — no one can quite figure out where all their money went.
North Quincy High senior Michael Alibrandi, 17, planning for a $49,500-a-year career as an FBI agent, lamented that an unexpectedly sick dog meant a $90 veterinarian bill.
Others were surprised at their net income, compared with their total pay.
“You don’t realize how much goes into taxes,” said Lisa Yang, a 17-year-old North Quincy High senior who was working with a $53,000-a-year career in business management. After taxes, her monthly income was $3,182. “You think, ‘Wow, I found this high-paying job,’ and then you realize it’s not so high.”
Hannah Kirby, 17, from Quincy High School, looked longingly at her budget sheet, based on a $33,000 salary as a teacher. She had yet to buy insurance, and Kirby said she would have to take public transportation to make her budget work.
“I didn’t think it would be this hard,” she said.
Maggie Mahoney, expecting to earn $52,000 a year as a fashion designer, said she’d probably go home and give her mom a hug after realizing the stress of budgeting.
Quincy teachers say they’ve seen the event make an impact.
“I talked to one of my students. We were just chatting and she told me that this was one of the most important things she got out of high school,” said Cynthia Martin, adviser for business technology at Quincy High.
Financial literacy courses have been so successful, and received such positive feedback, that Quincy is expanding the program.
Last month, the investment company TD Ameritrade hosted North Quincy High students for a 45-minute financial literacy lesson, developed by Junior Achievement of Northern New England.
Additionally, with a $50,000 grant from the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the state treasurer’s office, Quincy will become one of 11 school systems to implement a financial literacy pilot program over the next three years.
For Quincy, the grant will support a 25-hour program for groups such as English language learners or teen mothers, and will be worked into the existing curriculum.
According to Chandra Allard, a spokeswoman for state Treasurer Steven Grossman, the school districts will use the money in slightly different ways, and the hope is to use their findings to eventually develop a statewide financial education program.
“One of the important responsibilities at the state level is to make sure that these students graduate with an education to navigate the waters,” Allard said. “The financial waters are tricky to understand; you shouldn’t have to take special courses in college to understand how to read a mortgage.’’
Grossman, she said, “talked about how there have been people affected within our state from lenders and how some basic financial education could have helped them, and we need to make it mandatory.”
Although bringing the program to all 700 seniors in Quincy’s school system may be cost-prohibitive, the city is at least spreading the word to other districts, by inviting academic leaders to the Credit for Life event, and providing an example for how the program could work.
Braintree High School picked up the program last year.
The bottom line for educators is that showing young people how to budget is an investment that will repay them countless times over.
“I think that if we’re going to be an economically sound community, country, world, people need to know how to handle their money,” Martin said.
Jessica Barlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@ gmail.com.