Today I helped out at a Financial Fitness Fair at a local high school. What is a Financial Fitness Fair, you might be asking? Well, it’s basically a more realistic version of the game LIFE for high school students. Usually it’s juniors and/or seniors who participate. They start with the idea that we are time-traveling to the future when they’re 22. The students are assigned a job with an entry-level salary and then are set with the task of creating a monthly budget based on that salary. The fair has nine different booths the kids have to visit that cover different expenses like food, transportation, and student loans. It’s a valuable learning experience for the students and I believe the general consensus is that it is much better than going to class.
To give you an idea of what the Financial Fitness Fair is like, hear are five things I overheard today while volunteering:
1. “Why didn’t we have this when I was in high school?” At every Financial Fitness I go to, I hear this from the adult volunteers and teachers. I’ve said it myself like a million times. Before I started working at a credit union, I knew nothing about money besides how to spend it. We learn so much in school, but often times practical skills like how to budget, how to save, or how much college really costs unfortunately get left out. A study done by Learnvest and Chase Blueprint showed that 52% of teenagers want to learn more about money, so the Financial Fitness Fair is a great opportunity for them to gain some of that knowledge. Although we only have an hour of their time, the fair gives the students some basic financial skills that they can build on as they get older.
2. “Dude, I got totally wrecked on student loans though. $50,000 – that’s an outrageous number! Like no one actually has that much in student loans.” I heard a kid say this today after his buddy gave him a hard time about ending up in the red when he finished his monthly budget. And although I agree with him that $50,000 in debt is an outrageous number, it’s sadly not an unrealistic one. The average student loan debt for a four-year degree in the U.S. is $29,000. And if you’re a doctor, like this kid said he wanted to be, that number goes up to $166,750. So his estimated student loan debt was actually kind of low. Too often kids go off to college without really thinking about how much it costs and definitely with no idea of what their monthly student loan payments will be once they graduate. It was interesting to see kids start to understand how much a student loan payment could really affect their future lifestyle.
3. “I don’t need clothes, I’ll just go to work naked.” I volunteer at the clothing booth, where the kids have to figure out a monthly clothing budget for their work wardrobe. At least once at every fair a kid makes this same joke about how they will just save money by going to work naked. High school humor at its finest. I also once had a boy ask me which store I recommended he shop at. “Not like budget-wise,” he said, “but from a fashion standpoint.” This is why clothing is the most entertaining booth.
4. “It’s all about choices, Brian!” I heard a kid say this to his friend today in his best dad-voice. He might have been being sarcastic, but this is actually a really great point. Being successful at the Financial Fitness Fair is really all about making good decisions with your money. When you’re still in high school your parents pay for everything so it’s easy to imagine that you’ll have a ton of money when you’re an adult. It’s fun to go through the fair buying the most expensive clothes, purchasing a Ferrari, and eating out every night. But in the real world, very few people have the budget for such a luxurious lifestyle. At the fair you see kids making compromises in some areas in order to make room for an expense in another, like living with a roommate so they can buy a nicer car. We all have to make those choices in real life, so it’s cool to see them start to think that way now.
5. “This is super helpful. I’m like actually going to save this budget sheet so I can use it when I graduate.” A student said this to her friend when she was walking away from our booth today and I was like, “You go girl!” It always surprises me how engaged the students are in the fair. You volunteer expecting a certain amount of teenage apathy, but workplace nudity jokes aside, most kids tend to be pretty interested in the activity. It gives you hope that they’ll leave with some valuable information that they can apply in their real lives once they graduate.
If you want to see more about the Financial Fitness Fairs put on at high schools across the state by Maine’s credit unions, you can check out this cool video.