Financial reality challenge 2

Zeke Conway calculates the cost of health insurance into his monthly budget during the Giant$ Reality Challenge Wednesday.

Senior Cody Latzke left the Le Sueur-Henderson High School gym Wednesday rethinking logging as a career option.

Like many of his classmates, Latzke struggled to make ends meet during a new personal budgeting simulation developed by the school’s business teacher with help from the Le Sueur Rotary Club.

Students in economics and personal finance classes spent some time prior to the simulation, dubbed the Giant$ Reality Challenge, researching a potential career field. The research included determining the average starting salary for their career of choice in Minnesota, teacher Don Marcussen said.

Rotarians and other community volunteers then gave students a taste of having to pay bills and balance a budget. Some of the students only had to fund their own needs while others were randomly assigned a spouse and children to financially support.

Students visited booths where volunteers helped them make financial decisions and tally expenses.

At some stops there was a mandatory expenditure, including housing, utilities and health insurance. The number of people in their pretend families had a big impact on each expense, but students also had some choices at most of the stops, such as to buy a home or rent an apartment.

At the insurance booth, volunteer Irene Manke cautioned a student about choosing the lowest-cost but highest-deductible health insurance plan.

“Do you have savings? Because you might need to use it,” she warned.

At the transportation booth, volunteer David Braun tried to entice students to lease a new luxury SUV for $780 a month over a used sedan for $185.

“I’m pretty impressed. Most of them are resisting,” he said.

Junior Zeke Conway said he was most surprised by the cost of child care — over $800 a month for the lowest-cost option.

The necessities really add up, added Conway, who was a software developer and single dad in the exercise.

“You go through money very quickly with everything that is required,” he said.

By the time students made it to the booths where they could splurge on non-essentials, many of the students found themselves having to walk away without indulging.

Latzke and Conway were among the many students who had to get a second job.

School counselor Ingrid Al Sattam shared her own experience working a second job as she counseled student applicants to consider its trickle-down impacts, such as the need for additional child care.

“There is a lot of things to consider when taking on another job,” she said.

Unexpected expenses forced some of the students to get a second job or to give up cable TV or other luxuries.

At one booth students picked cards of chance that gave them either a financial boost or a setback. A broken down refrigerator and computer set Latzke back $550.

Latzke also was among the unlucky students stopped by Le Sueur Police Chief Bruce Kelly. But the $35 parking ticket that Latzke had to deduct from his budget wasn’t as steep as some of the other tickets Kelly dolled out.

Rotary Club member Dave Johnson saw a similar exercise co-hosted by a Rotary club and a credit union at a school in the Twin Cities and worked with Marcussen to duplicate it in Le Sueur.

Johnson said he hoped the experience would give students some tools to successfully manage their personal finances when they become working adults.

Latzke said logging was one of a few careers he was considering, but now he’ll look harder at other prospects that would pay a higher salary.

Senior Gail Warner said she remained steadfast on her career choice even after she had to go back and trim expenses.

During her prior research about the field of athletic training, she said she found that while the starting wage is fairly low, she could earn a comfortable salary after a few years experience. She’s willing to be frugal for a few years, she decided.

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