SKOWHEGAN — Ramen noodles or steak and potatoes?

Rent an apartment or buy a house? Own a car or carpool with friends? Shop at Abercrombie & Fitch or Walmart?

All of those choices and two dozen more combinations on budgeting and finances were presented Wednesday morning to about 170 seniors at Skowhegan Area High School during the school’s first Financial Literacy Fair.

The fair and a required financial literacy course for all seniors were aimed at preparing students for life after high school by giving them a mock profile, including a job, an annual salary and seven “life” stations to visit in the school gymnasium, said Darcy Fitzmaurice, who teaches the course. All of the jobs are geared toward possibilities in the state.

“They have to figure out their net income, using tax tables, then visit the various booths to come up with a budget based on that amount of money,” Fitzmaurice said. “Each booth is manned by someone from the business community.”

Goods and services represented at the booths included banking; food; transportation; housing; entertainment; Internet, TV and phone connections; and personal items such as clothing and hair products.

It all had to fit within a budget.

Students said they were happy to get a glimpse of what the world will look like when they are on their own.

William Qualey, of Norridgewock, along with three of his friends, moved from booth to booth, using calculators to balance their budgets. Qualey’s “job” was that of a registered nurse with an annual salary of $43,000.

“It’s beneficial for us because in a few years, we’re going to be doing all these things for real,” Qualey said. “It’s nice to have some prior experience, and it’s nice having financial literacy in high school, having that experience.”

His friend, Chase Palmer, was given a career as a dispatcher at a fire department. “When you get into the real world, there’s actually going to be real things that you’re going to have to buy. It’s like, money’s not all for play,” Palmer, of Canaan, said. “It’s definitely a good eye opener to see how much things actually cost.”

The program, Life’s Dollars and $ense, was presented by Skowhegan Savings Bank and Jobs for Maine Graduates in conjunction with the financial literacy course for seniors. The event was followed by the official opening of a Skowhegan Savings branch office in the high school’s lobby.

“This is designed to give students an idea of what it would cost to live on their own, how to manage their finances and how you have to pick and choose things in life in order to be able to live on your own and make good financial decisions,” Fitzmaurice said.

Event announcer Greg Fortier of Jobs for Maine’s Graduates added unexpected but potentially real-life twists about a increased cell phone or laundry charge, as well as a rebate or salary bonus. All had to be recalculated into budgets.

“Every time they hear an announcement, they had to go readjust their budgets; none of the kids was expecting that to happen,” he said.

Student Anna Marshall, of Norridgewock, who was given a career as a dental assistant at $27,435 a year, said Wednesday’s literacy fair was fun and cool — and valuable in developing life skills for after high school.

“We filled out the budget sheets in our financial literacy class, but these actually apply it to real life. You have a job. Eventually, we’re going to have to make these budgets, and it’s a helpful thing to get now,” she said. “So far, I’ve been able to live within that budget; it’s enough for one person. … You can’t have the vacations to Cancun or anything like that, but I think it’s definitely livable.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

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