For at least twenty years, College View Middle School’s 8th grade students have participated in “hands-on budgeting” to experience some of the financial challenges they will face as they age. The culmination of this experience is a reality fair.
The fair is primarily completed in social studies classes where students complete a career interest survey and choose one from the five recommended careers. Earnings from the selected career are based on the average Kentucky entry salary which is used to determine how much money the student has for the month.
According to the information shared with students for this simulated month, students are told they are solely responsible for their family’s decisions. A spouse is not available and it could be due to deployment, disability, divorce, death or another reason students are making all the decisions for themselves and possibly children.
“I am a nurse, and I had to split my salary into months so I could work on budgeting,” said Gracie Crump, one of the students at the reality fair. “I also have three kids.”
CVMS’ Youth Service Center Coordinator Amy Nonweiler visited with students in class prior to the fair to discuss “needs vs. wants” and explained how the fair would actually work.
“We had a great discussion of homes and whether it was a need versus a want,” Nonweiler said.
Students agreed they needed some type of home, but the brainstorming and discussion of owning a home, renting a home, apartment, or even government housing were presented and the costs associated with each, all based on income, Nonweiler said.
“The discussion of phones was really interesting,” Nonweiler said, expanding on how ten years ago, a home phone was a “need” and a cell phone was a “want,” but now, 80% of the kids said cell phones were all they had at home. This led to discussing what type of cell phone and plan also would work within the student budgets.
Students draw for how many children they will have, ranging from zero to three. Nonweiler said that Mrs. Rue, one of the 8th grade teachers, used a personal example to discuss budgeting for private child care, something most didn’t think about.
“I told them how having two kids in daycare was the same as my house payment,” said Nonweiler.
The day of the fair, students use their career, salary, and possible children when making budgeting decisions and check writing during the simulation.
Entering the fair with a checklist, students first visited with “Uncle Sam” to find out how much will go for taxes and then visited the bank to open a checking account and receive their checks. After opening an account, students could visit any booth in any order. If they ran out of money or were close to being out — or if they need help at any point, the “SOS” booth was available.
Jen Allen, a loan officer for Independence Bank, has been helping with the fair since the beginning. She visited the classes prior to the fair to discuss checkbooks and the safety around using checkbooks versus cash. She discussed how a bank can help with fraud and how writing checks correctly — and using the register — is very important, especially in the electronic age.
“I also explain how money and finances are the center of the household,” said Allen, adding that most issues stem from finances.
For sixty minutes, students were in charge of their lifestyle. They had to calcuate each transaction and record it in their checkbook. Along the way were challenges to the students to aid their understanding of a “need” vs. a “want.”
“This really helps us figure out our future and what we might need in the future,” said Crump. “I need to work on budgeting.”
Home insurance, life insurance, entertainment, communication, electronics, appliances and furniture, grocery, clothing, medical, financial institution, Uncle Sam, real estate, utilities, child care, charitable contributions, SOS, crystal ball, car lot, and license branch were all represented in the fair. Community and parent volunteers “sold” to students at each booth.
At the refund booth, students were able to exchange top-of-the-line clothing for cheaper clothing and vice versa. They could also upgrade houses and cars if they had money to spare or sell their car back to the dealer and get bus tokens, if necessary.
One of the most surprising things to the students was how little they can put in savings, Allen said, giving the example of a student who wanted to put $1000 in savings but then realized he would have to withdraw from that to make his payments since he only had $800 left.
Crump agreed because she, too, had wanted to save more for her education.
The staff involved in the fair have seen an increased excitement in students about earning, spending and saving as well as improved financial decision making and consumer confidence. After the fair, students will complete evaluations.
“The response is always terrific, humbling and usually comical,” said Mary Dean Miller, one of the staff overseeing the project.