How much money should I budget each month for rent, transportation, food and other needs? Can I afford a high-end cellphone plan and still pay my utilities?

Those are the types of questions that seniors at New Technology High School tackled at a Mad City Money personal finance simulation, presented by Travis Credit Union.

Using the Bite of Reality 2 app, students were randomly assigned a job, a monthly salary, obligations such as medical copays and credit card or student loan debt. Next, they made choices about expenses such as child care, groceries and dining, shopping, debt, clothing, household needs, entertainment and transportation.

At one station, senior Ileanna Cambero was deciding how much to spend each month on groceries.

“I’m considering all my monthly costs and credit card bills and everything,” she said.

NVUSD Board trustee David T. Gracia participated in the simulation along with the seniors. He ran down his list of choices, including using grandma for child care for his hypothetical 3-year-old son Hector and opting for the most expensive groceries and very little dining out.

The expense of commuting required another accommodation. “Transportation was $150 because I was running out of money and so I got bus passes for myself and my spouse!” he said, laughing.

Financial algebra teacher Dorothea McFarland organized the simulation.

“My goal in life is to make my class ‘Everything You Should Have Learned in High School,’ so we go over mortgages, credit cards, everything,” she said. “We do this two-hour event with Travis Credit Union so we can hit all the seniors.”

McFarland also recruited community volunteers to assist, namely her husband, Jim Collins, who is the chief financial officer for JaM Cellars, and four of his fellow Rotarians, including David Anderson, Brian Dodd, Justin Gomez and Doug Roberts.

Collins staffed the ‘household needs’ table, doing his best to entice the students to spend more money by emphasizing “if you spend more, this will be higher quality, it will be cheaper in the long run, give me the money now.”

The app also generated random occurrences for each player, like a unexpected car repair or medical bill, or a refund check or gift of money.

When the simulation was over, the Travis staff asked the students to reflect on what mistakes they made, what strategies they used to make decisions and how the simulation relates to real life.

“I didn’t make the big payments first and I ran out of money,” one student said. Another reflected that she could spend the bare minimum on things that didn’t matter as much to her.

In a summation, credit union staff outlined some suggested percentages for categories of expenses and discussed good debt, such as education loans, versus bad debt, like consumer credit cards.

Travis staff emphasized that the simulation is solicitation-free, with no invitation or pressure to join the credit union. John Evalle, military affairs officer at Travis Credit Union, said, “We do this to make a positive difference in these young people’s lives as they start to make financial decisions that are going to have significant impacts for them. We want them to have good habits that will last a lifetime.”

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