Mohawk kids get budget ‘reality check’
Mohawk Trail Regional High School students Heidi Phelps, Abigail Yezierski, Ashley Robertson, Emma Taylor, Tyler Osman and others talk to area professionals about their housing choices. Above, Phelps and Yezierski talk to Miguel Vasquez of the People’s United Bank about apartment rentals.
Mohawk students participating in the Reality Check program at GCC on Thursday test drive life for a couple of hours. Nick Doneilo, Leah Yeglinski and Nate Boyd try to balance their checkbooks.
GREENFIELD — How much money must you earn to do what you want in your life?
About 140 Mohawk Trail Regional High School juniors and seniors got a financial eye-opener Thursday, at a “Reality Check” held at Greenfield Community College, and sponsored by People’s United Savings Bank.
Pretending to be 25 years old and in their chosen career fields, the students sought information on housing, transportation, food costs, utilities, insurance and other expenses from bank officials and 40 to 50 business community volunteers. In the morning, they were given job titles, their net and gross salaries, and told to seek out necessities within their budgets.
“I’m making out fairly decently, but it’s pretty much touch-and-go. You have to be on your toes,” said Mohawk senior Nick Doniello of Shelburne, as he sized-up his income and budget sheet. He said he was a full-time broadcast journalist, with a part-time job as a chauffeur. His net income was $19,087 per year. He had just talked to Tom Dillon about a hypothetical used car purchase, and was waiting in the “credit line” to learn what kind of car loan he would qualify for.
“I’m going to be a mechanic,” said Nathaniel Boyd of Rowe. “My net income is $20,149. I’m trying to buy stuff that is more expensive that I really would buy, to make this (exercise) harder.”
Tom and Susan Dillon, of Dillon Chevrolet, were pretty busy with students as they explained the options: new or used cars, luxury autos, etc. But they also spelled out the costs for state registration and license plates and insurance.
“For insurance, they roll dice to see what their insurance is going to be,” Tom Dillon said. “They see how violations affect their insurance rates.”
“We do have a student or two that has had to come back because they can’t afford the vehicle they wanted,” added Susan McLaughlin of People’s United Bank. “We also have bus passes!”
But, if, for instance, the student is in real estate, “we don’t let them buy bus passes,” she added, because real estate agents must have cars. They would be counseled to get a part-time job to help pay for a vehicle, she said.
Over in “housing,” students Heidi Phelps of Rowe and Abigail Yezierski of Heath agreed to share a two-bedroom apartment for $650 per month — heat not included. Sharing rent would save money for Phelps, whose job title was “hairdresser,” and Yezierski, a “neonatal nurse.”
To teach students how to budget for food, clothing, shelter, transportation and other necessities, organizers of the Reality Check program asked students in December what careers they are planning for, explains Lynn Cantell of Shelburne Falls, senior vice president of the bank, who suggested expanding this program to Mohawk.
Then the organizers researched western Massachusetts housing costs, transportation expenses, grocery costs and brought in local business people to help students determine what they can afford and what they must do without.
A giant drum, filled with slips of paper, served as a “wheel of fortune,” with messages of good or bad news. Each student must draw one and work it into their financial plan. This could be an unexpected tax refund or an expensive car repair.
According to People’s United Bank/Massachusetts President Timothy P. Crimmins, the bank has been running “Reality Check” school programs in Danvers for about seven years. “Over 1,500 kids have gone through it,” he said.
“A lot of the kids come away saying: This is what my parents have been telling me,” remarked Crimmins.
“Suddenly their parents seem smarter after they’ve completed the program.”
Laura Rubinaccio and student teacher Katie Sassorossi, who teach “Personal Finance” at Mohawk, watched the students queuing up for credit information.
“I’m jealous I didn’t have this when I was in high school, remarked Sassorossi. “They seem to really get a lot out of it.”
You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277