Joshua had just finished his first shift at his first job, a cashier at Culver’s. Now he was ready to learn about all those numbers and acronyms on that first paycheck.

Joshua was one of 19 teenagers who participated in a summer session of Money Sense recently at the United Community Center on Milwaukee’s south side. So far, Joshua was the only one in the room who had landed that first summer job, outside of mowing lawns or babysitting. In his excitement from that first summer job – a rite of passage for thousands of teens, and quintessentially Wisconsin to be doling out butter burgers and custard – Joshua said he wasn’t paying too close attention to things like his rate of pay or what might come out of his check.

“I’m not sure what the taxes are, no. I have to look up minimum wage again,” said Joshua, to some teasing from his friends in the class.

Marc Colletti (pictured at left), a long-time financial education volunteer with Make A Difference – Wisconsin, guided Joshua and his peers through a lesson on the details behind a paycheck. Throughout, Colletti seasoned the class with insight on his varied professional background and urged teens to listen to those adults who are “encouraging your skills.”

“The more knowledge you have, the more power you have to make decisions in your life,” Colletti said.

Most schools are out for summer, though our financial education programs carry on at many community-based sites like U.C.C. or The Goodman Center in Madison. In this late-June lesson, Colletti walked Joshua and his peers through an exercise where they chose from a handful of careers and budgets to see the amount of savings a person may actually earn. Similar to most of the teens in the room, Joshua picked the highest paying career, a surgeon, which doesn’t actually bring home the most extra money because of high costs from things like student loans. He compared the take-home pay from the surgeon with his own minimum wage expectations for the summer from the new job, and then endured a bit more teasing from friends seated on either side of him.

However, he saw a silver lining in the potential to save most of his pay at this point in his life.

“It depends what you do with it,” Joshua said.

– by Justin Kern, marketing & communications manager, Make A Difference – Wisconsin