‘Life Be Expensive These Days’: Reality Fair Volunteers Can Help Students Be Smart Consumers

Reality Fair participants choose a career and a salary and then have to figure out how to create a budget that covers housing, food and other essentials.

“I learned that you have to learn to live within your budget, and that you have to sacrifice some of your wants for things that you need.”

That’s how one Shorecrest High School student summed up her experience at the Northwest Credit Union Foundation’s Financial Reality Fair in Shoreline, Wash., last week.

“Life be expensive these days,” said another.

True enough, and proof that the NWCUF’s immersive Reality Fairs really are giving young people a taste of the real world and providing them with the skills they’ll need to be smart financial consumers.

Four more fairs are on the schedule for May and June, and volunteers are being recruited now to play the role of vendors or financial counselors at all of them:

  • May 15: More than 200 students from the Northwest Career & Technical Academy in Mt. Vernon, Wash., are expected to attend this fair from 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Co-hosted by the NWCUF and North Coast Credit Union.
  • May 22: Fifty students are expected at this fair in Portland, which will run from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Hosted by the NWCUF.
  • June 7: More than 100 attendees at the NWCUA Directors’ Conference in Vancouver, Wash., will get a first-hand look at what high school students experience at this fair, which runs from 9:45 a.m.-2:15 p.m. Hosted by the NWCUF.
  • June 25: Fifty K-12 teachers from across Washington will take part in this fair as part of the Financial Education Institute for Teachers in Bremerton, Wash.; time TBA. Co-hosted by the NWCUF and the Washington state Financial Education Public Private Partnership.

At the fairs, participants choose a career and a salary and then have to figure out how to create a budget that covers housing, food and other essentials. They visit 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’re tempted by entertainment opportunities and other non-essential services that can often wreak havoc on a family’s budget.

Armed with all of that information, participants then document their income and expenses, balance their monthly budget and get a “financial counselor” to sign off on their plan. The impact on participants is dramatic, and immediate.

At last week’s event in Shoreline, students were asked a series of questions before and after the fair. The results showed that:

  • The percentage of students who believe it is important to save money on a regular basis increased from 74 percent to 100 percent;
  • Students who use or will use a budget increased from 68 percent to 100 percent;
  • Students who understand why a credit score is important increased from 53 percent to 84 percent;
  • Students who understand how to manage or reduce debt increased from 26 percent to 47 percent; and
  • Students who are knowledgeable about financing options to pay for college or vocational school increased from 58 percent to 89 percent.

Volunteers from Community Healthcare Federal Credit Union, Salal Credit Union and Sound Credit Union all participated in the Shoreline fair. To volunteer for an upcoming Reality Fair, visit the Foundation’s website. For more on all of the NWCUF’s financial literacy efforts, contact Kim Vu at kvu@nwcua.org or 260.340.4818.

Questions about this story? Contact Gary M. Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

Posted in NWCUA.