Financial reality fairs provide knowledge to high school students

High school students might envision the hypothetical situation of earning $45,000 a year in a luxurious lifestyle with great apartments, new cars, and plenty of opportunities for fun and adventure.

However, they may not have considered that these apartments required security deposits and large portions of their paychecks, along with furniture and the need to pay utility bills.

They may not have been aware that their default credit scores could make it difficult to obtain auto loans, or they considered that those vehicles require maintenance, which can sometimes be very expensive.

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Cindy Troche, a Riverfront Federal Credit Union volunteer, helps a student during a recent financial literacy event at Wyomissing Junior-Senior High School. (image provided)

Thanks to a recent financial reality show presented earlier this month by local not-for-profit credit unions, seniors at Wyomissing Junior-Senior High School have a better understanding of real-world finances and budget management.

Presented in conjunction with the school’s Career Day, the exhibition enabled the students to reflect on how their educational and career choices might affect their future finances.

Jennifer Yetter, an English teacher at Wyomissing who serves as a first-grade associate counselor, said the show has prompted some students to reconsider plans for their futures.

“The experience allowed the students to get a better understanding of what they want to pursue after high school and how it will affect them financially,” Yetter wrote in an email with input from students who participated in the fair. “After their visits to the financial experts, some of the students began to question some of their current options and were considering alternative options to reach their goals.”

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Volunteers from 10 area credit unions led a financial reality show earlier this month at Wyomissing Junior-Senior High School. The fair will be presented at six other high schools in Berks County for the remainder of the 2022-23 school year. (image provided)

In addition to Wyomissing, the popular program, which has been offered to Berks County schools for over a decade but was interrupted for two years due to the pandemic, will be offered through the end of the school year for students at Tulpehocken Junior-Senior High School, Hamburg High School, Schuylkill Valley High School, Muhlenberg School High School, Conrad Weiser High School and Governor Mifflin High School.

The goal of the fair is to get students to think about money and how they can spend and save it, said Erica Winnell, Great Reading Financial Reality Fair Committee Chair and Product Director at the Utility Employees Credit Union (UECU) in Wyomissing.

“The whole idea is that it exposes them to all the bills and expenses that they will have when they are out on their own and teaches them the importance of setting aside money for unexpected expenses,” she said.

During the fair, students choose a profession and salary and are allocated a monthly income. Salaries are based on the assumption that students have a high school, associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree.

They are then tasked with creating a budget, deciding what they will spend on housing, transportation, food, insurance, taxes, entertainment, and other expenses. They also spin the “Reality Wheel,” which dispenses surprises like a reward for work or an unexpected car repair bill.

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“Wheel of Reality” on November 9 at Wyomissing Junior-Senior High School’s Financial Reality Show. Reality fairs are conducted by volunteers from area credit unions, providing practical information for students. In this photo volunteers Latosha Faison, left, of Discovery FCU and Nikki Baker of Bellco Credit Union. (image introduction)

Students review their completed budgets with financial advisors, all volunteers from area credit unions. The experience is rewarding for both students and volunteers, said Kevin Unger, vice president/operations director for Discovery Federal Credit Union in Wyomissing and a member of the exhibition committee.

“I’ve enjoyed doing these exhibitions over the years and I’m so glad we’re back in school again after a two-year hiatus,” said Unger. “The children are very receptive and fun to interact with. We all have a great time, and they seem to enjoy learning and sharing what they have learned with their classmates.”

The degree of financial education offered varies from school to school, making the fair reality especially valuable in areas with limited programs in this area.

“The fairs are especially useful for counties that offer minimal financial literacy programs as part of their curriculum,” said Shawna Lorenz, vice president of marketing for the Reading-based Riverfront Federal Credit Union and member of the fair committee. “As local credit unions, we are proud to offer this interactive tool in line with our initiative to promote financial well-being for all.”

Educational materials for the fairs are provided by the Cross State Credit Union, an organization serving 519 credit unions across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. More than 50 local credit union volunteers are needed for each fair.

“I am so grateful to all of the volunteers from the 10 credit unions who participated in Wyomissing,” said Wynnell. “We wouldn’t be able to put on the fairs without everyone’s help and support. What makes credit unions so unique is our collaborative nature and how we work together to further our mission of financial literacy.”

In addition to UECU, Discovery, and Riverfront, participating credit unions are: Bellco Federal Credit Union, Diamond Credit Union, 1st Member Federal Credit Union, Sun Federal Credit Union, Visions Federal Credit Union, Hidden River Credit Union and Lanco Federal Credit Union.

The upcoming reality show is scheduled to take place Wednesday, December 14th, at Tulpehocken Junior-Senior High School in Jefferson Township. An estimated 200 students are expected to participate in the school.

More information about the fairs is available at https://www.crossstate.org/about/foundation/financial-reality-fairs.

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