High School Students Hone Their Budgeting Skills Through Financial Reality Fairs

Financial Reality Fairs

More than 1,000 students have gained real-world budgeting skills thanks to Financial Reality Fairs hosted by their local credit unions in the past six months. In total, 19 credit unions and one chapter have hosted fairs throughout the Northwest, providing students with the financial skills they’ll need to make smart money choices into adulthood.

For the past seven years, the Northwest Credit Union Foundation has partnered with credit unions and chapters to hold the fairs. The Foundation launched the Bite of Reality app last fall, in partnership with the National Credit Union Foundation and the Richard Myles Johnson Foundation, giving digitally savvy students a familiar learning option that’s preferable over pen and paper. Now, money management has taken a modern turn, giving students a high-tech approach to budgeting, saving, goal setting, managing debt, and more.

Washington-based Sound Credit Union used the app exclusively at its Feb. 8 fair, serving students at [email protected], a STEM-focused school located in Federal Way, Washington. According to Sound Community Relations Officer, Ziquora Banks, the event started and ended with group huddles to discuss goals and outcomes. Use of the app supported a strong success rate, she said.

“Over 75 percent of the students stayed within budget and were able to pay off debt and/or save,” said Banks. “The other 25 percent went over budget and realized where they needed to make adjustments.”

The students noted several important lessons, such as the value of budgeting, how credit can be a great tool but if not used correctly, can be an obstacle, how difficult real-life decisions can be, and thinking twice on frivolous purchases.

As President and CEO of Oregon’s Sunset Science Park Federal Credit Union and a Financial Reality Fair veteran, Rhonda Baggarley has hosted numerous fairs.

“In the recap, I usually ask how many students selected “grandma” for childcare; then I also ask if that was realistic,” said Baggarley. “[I am] trying to get them to realize that the cheapest option isn’t always realistic and cutbacks might have to happen in other expense areas. It’s been well received by the students, and teachers seem to love it, too.”

On March 6, the entire senior class of 325 students at West Albany High School will get to experience real-life budgeting lessons thanks to Central Willamette Credit Union. West Albany’s fair will be held in conjunction with the school’s career day activities with help from credit union volunteers, dedicated school staff, and 20 community volunteers. Over the course of the school year, Central Willamette will provide financial education more than 1,300 students.

“We use the app in a classroom setting that allows us to work with up to 35 students at a time,” said Erik Fedler, Marketing Manager at Central Willamette. “We find this to be a highly effective way to reach these students so they not only understand budgeting but also the dynamics of having to make choices that impact others, in this case, family.”

The Southwest Idaho Chapter will use the Bite of Reality App for the first time at fairs scheduled at two local high schools in April at Caldwell High School. Event Chair Nikie Bauer, who is also a Branch Manager for Idaho-based Clarity Credit Union, sees ongoing benefits for students using the app.

The chapter received a Foundation grant to facilitate the event. It will administer the program to 200 students over a four-hour period, with planned breaks in between. Several volunteers will assist with navigating the real-life experience of making financial choices. Volunteers from eight area credit unions and the Idaho Department of Finance are also stepping up to help with the fairs.

For more information on Financial Reality Fairs or to request a program kit that will help facilitate a fair for your credit union or chapter, contact Kaitlin Ramos. To apply for a Northwest Credit Union Foundation grant, click here.