Dose of Reality: Reality Fair at Riverview Gardens High School

Dose of Reality: Reality Fair at Riverview Gardens High School

Last week, I had the pleasure of volunteering at Riverview Gardens High School with the Missouri Credit Union Association’s (MCUA) Charitable Foundation. Employees from several area credit unions were involved in this “reality fair” program, which teaches young adults real-life budgeting skills.

 Us credit union folks 

Us credit union folks 

When I graduated from high school five years ago, I didn’t realize that pretty much all of life’s choices come with financial consequences-both positive and negative. I’ve always been a frugal person, but nothing can truly prepare you for the real world more than seeing real numbers.

So, that’s what we did. Students were assigned a monthly income based on the career choice of both them and their “spouse.” Some had children, credit card debt, and student loans. And, while, not everyone had a lot of debt, sometimes life would hit them with a medical bill or a pleasant windfall of cash. It was up to the students to fuel their lifestyle based on their life choices and the unexpected events life seems to hand us all the time. My station was called “My Closet,” and students had to determine what to spend each month on clothes and personal care for both themselves and their spouse.

Sitting back and watching students make financial decisions is astounding in so many ways. I found when it came to making household decisions, the young women I worked with were far more realistic and more likely to stick with a budget than the young men. A few memorable quotes:

“My wife won’t need to get haircuts frequently. I’ll budget $7 a month.”

“I know how boys are. They like to stay groomed, so my husband can have $45 a month on personal care, but I’ll only spend $25 because we can’t afford it.”

“I can’t stay away from the mall! I’ll spend $150 on clothes and my wife can wear hand me downs.”

“My husband won’t need more than $7 per month for haircuts and personal care. He’s a dispatcher, who does he have to impress? He better not leave me for some dispatcher!”

If students had more than $100 remaining at the end of the month, they had to go back and spend more. Believe it or not, nearly every student finished with $500 or more to spend. Sometimes, when a student was spending lavishly, life would slap them with a $150 unexpected bill. I could see how frustrated this made the students, but I think they learned an important lesson about life and saving.

Never underestimate the smarts of a room full of teenagers; they’re much more thoughtful and savvy than you’d think, even when it comes to money.

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