Key Oregon Legislator Sees Credit Union Financial Education Work First-Hand

Rep. Margaret Doherty, Chair of the House Education Committee, was a guest at Pacific NW Federal Credit Union’s Financial Reality Fair at a Portland High school.

11/19/19

Oregon State Rep. Margaret Doherty, center, shares budgeting tips with two Parkrose High School students.

Everyone seems to agree that teaching money management to young people is as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic. But finding time in the academic day, and finding qualified presenters, is a challenge for many schools.

There’s an app for that and credit unions are using it to help students hone their skills.

Rep. Margaret Doherty, (D-OR-35), who chairs the Oregon House Education Committee, got a front-row seat in Portland late last month, when the staff from Pacific NW Federal Credit Union rolled up their sleeves and helped 175 students experience a Financial Reality Fair at Parkrose High School.

“To have financial planning and for kids to learn about this is very, very important,” said Doherty as the event got underway. “I think they’ll find out that there are bills they’ll have to pay that they didn’t even know about.”

She was right. Using their Bite of Reality apps funded by a Northwest Credit Union Foundation grant, Parkrose sophomores allowed Doherty to look over their shoulders as they were assigned personas, salaries, taxes, student debt, and in some cases, marriage or childrearing expenses. They then had to navigate a tempting maze of wants and needs from transportation, clothing, food, and housing, to entertainment and lavish travel.

“I really don’t think I need a bed,” said one student to Doherty as he learned just how expensive furniture can be.

Two other students went through the experience together, and one of them even signed up for his first mortgage with a mock vendor. Both had money left “at the end of the month,” but many students took the time to repeat the exercise if they did not balance their budgets.

They may not be parents yet, but these Parkrose High School students might be someday. They got a dose of just how expensive that can be at their recent Financial Reality Fair.

A Parkrose student who’d been assigned a persona as a zookeeper was persuaded by high-pressure car salespeople, but said she made a smart decision, “because I bought a used car for my spouse and a BMW for me.”

The exercise was lively and fun for the Parkrose students, but also offered them a dose of reality that they can take with them into adulthood.

Volunteering at a Financial Reality Fair is as rewarding for credit union teams as it is for students.

“I worked as a financial counselor at the Parkrose Financial Reality Fair,” said Tom Griffith, Pacific NW FCU’s CEO. “My role was to help students that had gone over budget find ways to cut spending. Over and over, I saw the “ah ha” moment as they realized that financial reality has trade-offs. The fancy new car has to go to pay for diapers and formula. This is why we do this, to show teens before they get into financial difficulties, there are ways to approach solid fiscal responsibility.”

The Financial Reality Fair program wins the praise of Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read, who sent James Sinks, his Financial Education Program Manager, to witness the event.

“Improving the lives of Oregonians through financial empowerment and education is at the heart of the work we do at Oregon State Treasury,” Read said. “Financial insecurity can cause anxiety for adults and children, but it doesn’t need to be that way if we offer people the tools they need to plan for their financial future. We are happy to work with our regional credit unions, particularly through their innovative Financial Reality Fairs, preparing Oregon students to achieve their financial dreams by installing a culture of savings that puts the power back in their own hands.”

Editor’s note: Want to learn more about Financial Reality Fairs and the Bite of Reality app? Visit the Northwest Credit Union Foundation online.