Financial Reality Fair at GAC an ‘Eye-Opening Experience’ for Teens

Last week, the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) held a Financial Reality Fair in conjunction with the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) in Washington, DC.

The Reality Fair concept is a unique opportunity for students to experience some of the financial challenges they will face when they start life on their own. It’s a hands-on experience in which students identify their career choice and starting salaries then complete a budget sheet requiring them to live within their monthly salary while paying for basics such as housing, utilities, transportation, clothing, and food.

Additional expenditures such as entertainment and travel are factored in as well. Throughout the fair, there are many temptations for additional spending, and students must learn to balance their wants and needs to live on their own. After the students have visited the various booths covering components of independent living, students balance their budget, and then sit down with a financial counselor for review. 

“The Reality Fair was an eye-opening experience for a lot of these teens,” said Tanya Thomson, Art Teacher at Washington Metropolitan High School.

“It feels like the students learned a semester’s worth of meaningful material in just two hours at the Reality Fair,” said Landon Southerly, Math Teacher at Capital City Public Charter School.

The fair was held at the Rayburn House Office Building on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 with students from Capital City Public Charter School, Luke Charles Moore Academy, and Washington Metropolitan High School in attendance. Many others stopped by to observe the fair, including Members of Congress and GAC attendees during their “Hike the Hill” visits.

Northwest Credit Unions hosted their own successful Reality Fair in Olympia, Wash., on Feb. 7, giving state elected officials an opportunity to see credit unions’ financial education in action. A similar event will be held March 13 in Salem, Ore., as part of Oregon Credit Union Day at the Capitol, a day-long event that brings the state’s advocates together to share the credit union difference en masse. Registration for the annual event is available on the Northwest Credit Union Association’s website.

Of course, the real goal of the Reality Fairs, which are new to this year’s state advocacy days, is to leave the students on stronger financial footing. And it’s working.

“The students learned so much at the Reality Fair [at the GAC],” said Vibha Robinson, business manager at Luke C. Moore Academy. “I wish I went through this when I was in high school!”

The GAC event was sponsored by the NCUF with support and expertise from:

  • The Credit Union League of Connecticut;
  • Maryland & DC Credit Union Association;
  • Congressional Federal Credit Union;
  • HEW Federal Credit Union; and
  • GPO Federal Credit Union.

“The Reality Fair at GAC was another success in terms of visibility and engagement with area high school students,” said Lois Kitsch, NCUF national program director. “We encourage even more credit unions and leagues to hold their own reality fairs across the country. An estimated 10,000 students attended a fair in 2012, and that number is expected to grow substantially in 2013.”

Click here for more pictures of NCUF’s Reality Fair at GAC.


Questions? Contact Director of Outreach Programs Kasey Rockwell: 503.350.2217,

Posted in Events.