Northwest Credit Union Foundation Gives Spokane Teachers a Dose of (Financial) Reality

A dose of reality: Volunteer “vendors” make their pitch to teachers during the Northwest Credit Union Foundation’s Financial Reality Fair. Find lots more photos on Facebook.

You’d expect high school students to be tempted by entertainment opportunities and other non-essential services that can often wreak havoc on a family’s budget. But what would their teachers do when faced with the same options?

Just ask Christine Brouillette, a financial coordinator at Horizon Credit Union, who volunteered as a “vendor” at the Northwest Credit Union Foundation’s recent Financial Reality Fair for educators. The event, held in coordination with the Financial Education Public-Private Partnership’s (FEPPP) Financial Education & Training Institute, attracted 54 eastern Washington teachers.

“I sold gym memberships, and of course I embellished just a little. Unlimited tanning with a year’s membership, open 24 hours for early risers or night owls, the gym intersects two major bus lines, at $25 a month it’s a no-brainer. Gotcha!” Brouillette says. “The hair-and-nails package? It includes free trial samples on all hair products, and the monthly fee of $40 includes one free nail design. Gotcha again!”

One art teacher was an easy mark for a tattoo package, Brouillette says. “I think most teachers responded positively when they entered my space. I had most teachers buy one package, and a few bought a couple of them!”

In real life, an FEPPP survey of institute attendees shows, teachers are more apt to pay their credit card balances in full and to review their credit reports annually. They are far more likely to save, whether it’s for retirement, their children’s education or emergencies. They are less likely to bounce checks, and they worry more about debt than the average person in the United States.

When it comes to managing their own finances, at least, most of the teachers who typically attend the FEPPP institute — and who teach personal finance in Washington’s schools — seem to know what they’re doing. But few have had any real training when it comes to helping their students become smart financial consumers, too.

That’s where the institute comes in, offering classroom-ready lesson plans and knowledge that teachers can share with students in grades K-12 about everything from credit and careers to budgeting, investing, identity theft and more.

This year, they also got a chance to test what they learned at the Financial Reality Fair, a hands-on simulation with a distinctively real-world feel that typically caters to students.

“This gave teachers an opportunity to experience what their students would go through,” says Kim Vu, the Foundation’s executive director and a recent appointee to the FEPPP’s board. “We gave them an abbreviated version, so they would have an idea of what it was like without having to go through the entire program.”

At the fair, teachers were assigned a career and a salary and then had to figure out how to create a budget that covers housing, food and other essentials. They visited with volunteer “vendors” — apartment leasing agents, auto dealers and insurance agents, for example — to obtain the goods and services needed in everyday life. And just like in the real world, they were tempted by the kind of packages Brouillette was pedaling.

Interestingly, Vu says, the teachers’ questions and concerns were similar to those that student participants usually have. “There were a lot of comments about how expensive things were, and how difficult it was to create a budget that allotted for savings,” she says. “They totally got into it!”

Just sign here: Creating a budget is about more than just rent and food. At the Financial Reality Fair, teachers were tempted by a variety of non-essential options. Look for more photos here.

Steve Wilder, Horizon Credit Union’s cooperative engagement administrator and chairman of the NWCUF board, spent much of the day walking around the fair to gauge teacher reaction. “I wondered how engaged they would be, given that they may not relate as readily to the exercise,” he says. “But those fears were quickly allayed. The teachers dove into the exercise as readily as I had witnessed students doing in other fairs.”

The teachers were initially more practical than their student counterparts, Wilder says — something other volunteers also noticed.

“I worked at the electronics booth and found that the teachers were super cheap,” says Elizabeth Nuss, a marketing coordinator at WSECU in real life. “They’d say, ‘I want the cheapest phone. Nope, I don’t need a TV because I’ll watch my parents’. Nope, no computer or table, either. I’ll use my parents’.’ It just felt like they were too responsible.”

Apparently, that changed when they got to Brouillette’s tattoo parlor.

“Maybe I cheated, just a little,” she says with a laugh.

But both Brouillette and Nuss agree that the fair was a valuable experience for teachers, and both expect the lessons to make their way back to classrooms.

“The fair gave teachers tremendous insight, which they will be able to use to tweak the program for their students,” Brouillette says. “They took away a very positive and fun memory, and I believe their enthusiasm will spread to their schools.”

“I loved it,” Nuss says. “And I think that students would get a TON out of going through a reality fair like this!”

So does Alissa Munoz, a relationship development representative at Horizon Credit Union, who also volunteered at the fair.

“Although financial literacy is not a requirement in the classroom, my hope is that these teachers will see the value in it and incorporate it into classroom learning or an activity outside of the classroom,” Munoz says. “I hope to see more Reality Fairs or financial literacy programs in our middle schools and high schools!”

That, of course, is the whole idea.

“I am a big fan of teachers being exposed to Reality Fairs,” Wilder says. “The Foundation’s goal is to expose as many schools, youth organizations and credit unions to this program as possible, so that they can partner and work together to host fairs in their local communities.”

Vu couldn’t agree more. The Foundation has a deep commitment, she says, to financial literacy for children and adults.

“Financial education is a cornerstone of so many credit unions’ investment in their communities,” Vu says. “At the Foundation, we are delighted to work alongside our credit unions in the community to create signature programs like the Financial Reality Fair.”

For more information about the Foundation’s financial literacy efforts, visit or contact Kim Vu at 206.340.4818 or

Questions? Contact Gary M. Stein: 503.350.2216,

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