Junior Achievement program addresses teens’ personal finance concerns

April 16, 2018 GMT

STAMFORD — By the time he became a high-school senior, Mike Guarnieri had experience as president of a company — albeit, a very small one.

Guarnieri was in the Junior Achievement program while at Westhill High in the 1980s. The group met after school and gave students a chance to create and run their own company. Each was assigned to a department, where they had to invent, build and sell a product. They also had to manage the company’s finances and received salaries and a profit at the end of the year.

“A lesson I learned was that it’s not so much what you make,” Guarnieri said. “It’s what you spend.”

Guarnieri now teaches similar lessons as a volunteer for the Junior Achievement programs at the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering and Stamford High School.

Since Guarnieri graduated from Westhill, Junior Achievement has expanded from a club just for teens. The national program’s volunteers visit classrooms at every level for instruction in economics, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. The southwestern Connecticut chapter serves as many as 900 students in Stamford public schools from K-12.


These skills are more poignant now than ever. A survey conducted this year by Junior Achievement and financial services giant AIG showed many teens worry about their financial futures. More than half of those surveyed said they had concerns about the cost of college and finding a fulfilling, well-paying job. Other financial worries included being able to afford a home, a lack of money-management skills and a dearth of savings for an emergency.

“It’s an academic thing,” said Stamford resident Rich Ostuw, who’s been teaching Junior Achievement at AITE and Stamford High for three years. “They haven’t managed their personal finances in these ways. They have some money they manage, but...they’re not responsible for a household and those kind of living expenses.”

According to Janet Ursone, president of Junior Achievement of Southwestern Connecticut, the program works in activities to address these concerns and teach students the reality they’ll face when they become responsible for their own finances.

“We get students thinking — you’re going to have make choices as you get older and choices you make impact what you can do,” Ursone said. “If you want to do XYZ, you’re going to have to have this kind of an education and if you want to do more, you’re going to have to finish high school, go to college, get a trade...It really gets them to step back and look at what their options are and get them to start thinking about how they need to be proactive in making choices.”

When he teaches Junior Achievement, Guarnieri has students pick a job. They get the salary they’d make with that career based on national statistics. With this information, they have to make a budget, factoring in expenses like rent, utilities, food and entertainment.


Ostuw hands out cards with 29 expense categories and directs students to divide the costs based on necessities and luxuries. She coaches on how much to set aside for fixed expenses and how to plan for the unexpected.

Many of the lessons are anecdotal. Guarnieri often discusses marketing tactics and how students should avoid “keeping up with the Joneses” and instead choose to live within their means. Guarnieri often tells students about how he lived at home until he was 29 as a way to save.

“It’s a very sensible thing to do,” he said. “It’s a question of making sacrifices now that pay off later. So much in our society is instantaneous gratification. No one wants to suffer. They want everything now. We talk about that in terms of marketing.”; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata