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Old Navy or Banana Republic?

What will your life be like in 2020? That’s a question JVS youth, ages 15-16, grappled with as the adult world scrambled to get taxes done last week.

With their first day at work just one week away, the students learned about the aspect of adulthood that excited them the most – spending money.

“You want to live in the Sunset?” probed JVS Instructor Larry McClendon. “I never go to the Sunset. Why wouldn’t you want to live in the Tenderloin? It’s so close to work.”

“I live in the Tenderloin now,” one student said. “I don’t want to get asked for money 24/7!”

The students made choices. Would they shop at Old Navy or Banana Republic? Would they drive in a new car, take a bike or ride the bus? Would they live in SOMA or the Sunset?

They added up their living expenses and compared them to an income chart based on educational attainment – high school diploma to graduate school. Most seemed unphased by this news. They had spent the previous day doing virtual job shadows, which taught them about the education required for different professions and about salary ranges.

Then, they were given a harder task. McClendon paid each of five teams $859.50 (income for a 20-hour minimum wage job) and assigned some students a role – a utility, Uncle Sam or some other expense. With (fake) cash in their hands, they circled the room, paying the bill collectors and going to Wells Fargo or a check cashing store, as needed.

Negotiations were difficult.

“I wanted a car,” said one JVS youth. “I wanted to go fast, not get pick-pocketed on the bus, and be able to drive to work, but it was just too much money.”

Others held strong to keep their Mazda, but let someone live on their couch, adding $275 to their income.

“I can give you a loan, and then you can make your car payment,” offered McClendon, who acted as the check cashing store. “But remember, you don’t need a car to live in San Francisco.”

In the end, McClendon revealed their bottom line. Were they in the black, or in the red?

One team had nearly $400 leftover. The team saved money by living at home, and recognized that chores, a curfew, babysitting and no girlfriend visits would come as a cost. Another team spent $350 in check cashing, cut other expenses and added a roommate. Unfortunately, the team was still in the negative.

“What does it mean to start the month in the negative?” asked McClendon.

It was a sobering thought. Starting the next month with $300 of debt meant less money for expenses. It was clear that check cashing loans were not worth it.

Over the next 10 weeks, the youth will work 10 hours each week at local businesses, and will continue to receive coaching from McClendon and others at JVS.

“It’s helpful to bring up common financial mistakes that people in low income communities make,” said McClendon. “These youth will need to make tough decisions about their money. They need to know about predatory lending and how to decide of an expense is reasonable.”

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