Teens making most of limited incomes

Part-time jobs help youths plan for future, maintain financial independence in present

Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2002

Parents may think their kids don't know the value of a dollar, but a sampling of students who earn and spend their cash on the Kenai Peninsula may prove them wrong.

Hard-working teens

Preston Wendt, a senior at Kenai Central High School, saves 90 percent of his earnings from his job at the Kambe Theater for next year's college expenses.

Skyview student Hannah Ulen, who was found scrubbing dishes at River City Books in Soldotna, doesn't squander her money, but budgets for a car that is hers by way of her own labor.

Natalie Semmens, a KCHS senior, has worked summer jobs ever since she learned to ride a bicycle. At one time, she sold a self-published newspaper to neighbors simply to satisfy her drive to make some change. Her summer vacations have been filled by working on the slime line, at gas stations, as part of the Youth Restoration Corps and at The Heritage Place, where she experienced nursing duties for a possible future career.

"Natalie has always been motivated to earn money," said her father Larry Semmens, who is also the finance director for the city of Kenai. He said he not only genetically instilled saving tendencies in his children, but also raised them to be financially responsible.

Many teens, though, say they have learned to budget dollars through personal experience rather than lessons taught.

"One of my biggest fears is to have to call home for money (after high school)," said Jen Luton, a KCHS senior and five-year employee of the Kenai Arby's. Luton has gathered financial stability through her own ups and downs dealing with money. After bouncing checks, owning two cars and blowing paychecks on CDs, Luton has gained a better understanding of how to buy and maintain money in equal balance.

"I don't ever want to be in debt," she adds.

When it comes to teen's finances, an "allowance" is becoming a thing of the past. Surveys show nearly 50 percent of teen-agers are not provided with a weekly allowance.

Today's up-and-coming young adults not only claim to pay for the majority of their weekend entertainment and clothes, but they also say they don't have mom and dad to fall back on for postsecondary education expenses.

Former Halcyon Spalon employee Caitlin Nelson was pleasantly surprised when she ended up saving more than she originally expected.

"I hoped to save some for college and the winter," Nelson said.

Education may be one reason teens save; independence is another.

Robin Mida, a 17-year-old employee of Ultimate Tan, found a part-time job because, "it's nice to have your own money," she said, referring to the freedom it brings to spend how much she wants on what she wants.

Despite their responsible attitude toward money, teens appear to be unafraid to open their wallets when the opportunity arises.

"If I have money, I want to spend it," admits Coral Hoffman of Soldotna.

Nationally, each quarter, "teens spend billions," according to USA Weekend magazine's 12th annual teen survey. One hundred percent of randomly chosen interviewed teens put more money toward their wheels and their requirements than anything else. Even college ranks third in saving priorities.

In the work place

While earning money for their various wants and needs, teens fill an important niche in the labor market.

It's possible that without young people filling entry-level jobs in Kenai and Soldotna, the local economy would be severely lacking, said Kenai Mayor John Williams.

"It's all a part of it," said Williams said, referring to minimum wage work available for teens in the community.

Fast food restaurants, big retail outlets, beauty salons, tanning facilities and book stores -- all of which are major work providers for teens -- definitely contribute to income and earnings of the twin cities.

Cecilia Daniel, assistant manager for Big Kmart, said she appreciates teen employees.

"(Teens) bring enthusiasm into the store," she said, especially in helping customers with a positive attitude. Not only do they provide a younger generation of interests, but they are just as reliable and trustworthy as adults, she said.

Big K fills half of its register, shelf-stocking and Little Caesar's positions year-round with 16 to 18 year olds.

Not only do the teens work in the store, they circulate their earnings there, and, better yet, bring friends who also purchase, said Daniel.

Another big employer for teens is the Kenai Recreation Center where students have a variety of duties.

"(Their) responsibilities include everything from working the snack bar to custodial positions and decorating," said Bob Frates, Kenai's director of Parks and Recreation.

The rec center seeks out teen workers for their opinions and ideas for dances, upcoming activities and planned projects to round up youths from the community.

"We get a first-hand report of the things popular with kids. ... We rely on teens for their insight."

In some cases, a job isn't all work. Some teens find it a pleasurable way to socialize. Hoffman mentioned that her job of three months at Papa Murphy's in Soldotna doesn't have anything to do with her need for cash.

"My friends work here," she said.

Although they spend more on entertainment, vehicles and clothes than anyone else, saving is a significant part in teens' budgets. The evidence shows they know the value of a dollar.

"... Today's teen-agers are highly sensitized to the role of money in their lives. More than half say it is very important when it comes to getting a good education, choosing a job and succeeding in life," according to USA Weekend magazine's teen survey.

Larry Semmens agreed: "I am really pleased when I see young people doing a good job. It has a positive impact on the community."

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