Eighth-graders pass on their new budgeting wisdom as they revisit Finance Park.
By Harrison Smith June 6 at 5:12 PM
“I’m having some trouble applying for a loan.”
Su’a Cravens, a safety and linebacker whom the Washington Redskins drafted in the second round of this year’s National Football League draft, is hunched over a tablet, trying to buy a house.
If this were a real house, Cravens — his first name is pronounced “SUE-uh” — probably wouldn’t have much trouble. He’ll make nearly half a million dollars playing for the Redskins this season.
On a recent visit to the Junior Achievement Finance Park in Landover, Maryland, however, he and two dozen other Redskins rookies are taking on new identities to learn personal finance skills. Cravens, 20, has become a mechanical engineer with a $78,000 salary, a wife and a 3-year-old kid.
It’s a bit of a step down for the former University of Southern California student, but it could be worse. His friend Matt Ioannidis, a 22-year-old defensive tackle the Redskins drafted in the fifth round, is now a power-plant operator. He makes $65,000 a year and also has a 3-year-old.
Fortunately, the Redskins rookies have a team of experienced financial advisers to help them spend their new salaries: eighth-graders from nearby Kenmoor Middle School. The students spent a day at Finance Park last fall shortly after the facility opened.
It’s a weird situation, as Wesley Shoemaker acknowledges to his advisees, Cravens and Ioannidis (eye-an-NYE-dis). “We’re in eighth grade; you’re, like, in 18th grade.”
Shoemaker, wearing a button-down shirt and dotted blue tie, is joined for the day by classmate Liam Heneghan. Both are 14.
The Finance Park is a bit like a mini-city. Kids, or newly wealthy NFL rookies, budget money on tablets and then shop and pay bills by walking among storefronts designed to look like a restaurant or bank.
The indoor “park” is a partnership between Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, a nonprofit organization that helps area kids learn how to handle money, and Prince George’s County Public Schools, which sends about 9,000 eighth-graders to the Finance Park each year. A Finance Park in Fairfax County, Virginia, opened in 2010, and a third location, in Montgomery County, Maryland, is set to open in 2018.
At a table in the utility (“YouTility”) storefront, Cravens tells his finance mentors he’s “cheap” and plans to save quite a bit of his engineering salary.
Savings, Liam agrees, is a good thing to have. When he went through the Finance Park on his own, he was a single father of two.
“It was not fun,” Liam says. The unexpected happened, as it so often does. “My kid broke his arm on the monkey bars, and it cost a lot of money to fix.”
Ioannidis is also careful with his budget.
“Is it possible,” he wonders, “to put $0 on cable and just run off of Hulu and Netflix?”
Zero is not possible, it turns out, but $1 is allowed.
“I think I’m done,” Ioannidis says.
“I trust your decisions,” Liam says. His protege is learning.
Shopping is next. Ioannidis buys a car, a Chevrolet Uplander, and immediately regrets spending so much on a vehicle. Cravens skips the car — he’ll take a bus to work — but still finds himself low on cash.
“My wife and kid are sucking me dry,” he says.
All is not lost. By the end of the day, it turns out Cravens has $1,200 left over.
One of his new bosses, Malcolm Blacken, is not impressed. “You’re cheap, Su’a! Are you even eating?”
Blacken is the director of player development for the Redskins. “How much did Su’a spend on Nike?” he asks.
Cravens smiles. On his feet, hidden under the table, are a new pair of bright red Nikes.
“That,” Blacken says, “is his weakness.” And something to keep in mind for his next budget.