High schoolers at Junior Achievement of Southern California learn about budgeting.
High schoolers at Junior Achievement of Southern California learn about budgeting. - 
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The future of money is going to be determined by technology, by society, and also by the people with money to spend.

Take today’s high school students. It won’t be long before they are out of college, in the workforce, trying to figure out how to manage their money.

A program run by Junior Achievement of Southern California is meant to help them when they get there. It’s called Finance Park, and it’s a replica city with small storefronts -- a Toyota dealership, a StateFarm office, utility companies, a grocery store, a Bank of America branch.

Students come in to the park, they’re assigned a grown-up job, salary, family, and have to figure out how to spend their money.  It’s not easy -- I spot one student working with a volunteer on his budget, struggling with a negative balance. He decides he’s going to have to trim his entertainment budget. Bye, bye Clippers tickets.

One of the students trying to figure out how to feed his make-believe kids -- and afford a car and a house --  is 16-year-old Todd from Burbank High School. He says, in real life, he recently bought a $60 pair of jeans, “If I had taken this class like a week ago, I wouldn't have bought those jeans. I would have bought a cheaper one because it's not a need.”

Needs versus wants are a lot of what these young people talk about. Money, the teachers remind the kids, should be first and foremost about needs -- something that can be hard for a teenager.

“You don't really have to focus on the need and want,” says 15-year-old Clayton, “you focus on the want more because you feel like everything is supplied to you almost.” 

“They're just thinking about spending, they want to get that job so I can go to Six Flags, I can buy those jeans, I can go to Boba, I can do whatever you know,” says 18-year-old Daniella.  Her take-away from the day: “Think about the future,” she says, “not just right now.” 

As far as that future, 15-year-old Clarissa is realistic, “I think I'm going to be a cheap person,” she says, “I want to try to save as much as I can in case I lose my job or something, then what do I have? I know a lot of people who lost all their money and had nothing to fall back on, so I think I'll lead a cheaper lifestyle -- just in case something happens.” 

These are kids who've lived through the Great Recession. They saw their parents, or friends of their parents, have some really tough times.

The point of the program is, in part, to show kids that they aren't powerless. “The hope is that they understand the power of decisions and choices,” says Kat Delgado-Kirkwood, senior director of education with Junior Achievement, “and they have that control.” 

She says her own commitment to teaching good financial behavior came from watching her family struggle. Family, she says, has a big role to play.

“Sometimes I think as parents we may be afraid to have conversations, we may not want to show the true picture of what’s happening,” says Delgado-Kirwood. “But I think it's important to have open dialogue with your kids, and start now, don't pray and hope they are making smart decisions, but actually lay out the facts and lets have some conversations.”

Follow Adriene Hill at @adrienehill