Natomas High juniors and seniors get ‘Bite of Reality’

--- Published on April 24th 2015 ---
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Dozens of Natomas High School juniors and seniors were rolling in dough Friday, with thousands of dollars to spend – then reality hit.

They’d need a house, car, furniture, appliances, food, clothing, health insurance, not to mention a few bucks to snatch a bite at a restaurant or attend a Giants baseball game.

“I just bought a house and a car, and I’m halfway through my money,” complained Abel Ulloa, 16.

The exercise in financial literacy, “Bite of Reality,” gave about 100 NHS students a taste of the financial juggling, economic uncertainties, and difficult choices they will face as single adults or married spouses in years ahead.

“The whole idea is to experience what somebody would have to do in real life,” said Gregory S. Bainter of Schools Financial Credit Union, which teamed with the RMJ Foundation and a nonprofit group, Capital Region Academies for the Next Economy, or CRANE, to sponsor the NHS event.

Each participating Nighthawk was given a fictitious job, income and non-negotiable monthly debt – health insurance costs or credit card obligations, for example. With whatever money was  left over, they had to create a life without going broke or homeless. Steak or pizza? Cellphone or cable TV? Haircut or a movie?

For each purchase, the students had to write a check, record it, then balance their checkbook. If black turned to red in their ledgers, there was a credit union table to seek counseling.

Housing options ranged from a beautiful three-bedroom home with den and finished basement, at $1,800 per month, to a modest mobile home that came with a $650 monthly price tag. Oops, don’t forget electricity costs. And sewer. And insurance.  And high-speed cable.

Transportation? Adult volunteers in the Natomas High School exercise were pitching the pleasures of a luxury vehicle, just like kids might experience at a car dealership. Buy now, worry about the $975 monthly cost later. Sign right here, kids, on the dotted line.

The Nighthawks were inundated with buying options: Furniture, appliances, fancy clothes, a big-screen TV, boat, motorcycle. Each came with a Catch 22 – a price tag. Trip to Hawaii? Golfing green fees?  Digital camera? Sound system?

Married students faced additional costs, but additional income too, perhaps. Students with children faced options that ranged from $900 per month for licensed child care to $300 for grandma to babysit. Another baby this year? Perhaps not.

Assistant Principal Jessica Martin said she hopes to make “Bite of Reality” an annual event at NHS.

As the NHS juniors and seniors zigzagged from one choice to another Friday, they risked getting tapped by the “Fickle Finger of Fate,” a volunteer who could award them with extra cash -- $25 won in a local joke contest, for example -- or could zap the students with news that their car tires were flat and would cost big bucks to fix.

“I’m just learning how to grow up, how life is and the terrible things that go with it,” said Terrance March, 17.

Yesenia Liscano, 17, said she gained an understanding of why parents can get stressed out making ends meet. “Now we know what they have to go through,” she said.