Finance fun fair teaches real life lessons

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(Photo by MARY MALONE) Sandpoint High School seniors got a taste of what finances will be like as they enter the world of adults during the Bulldog Finance Fair Wednesday in North Summit Church.

SANDPOINT — Morgan Hogue is a machinist with a 4-year-old daughter. She and her spouse, a dental assistant, bring home a total income of $5,216 each month.

While she doesn't have any student loan debt, she does have $4,000 in credit card debt and her family's medical insurance is $510 each month. After paying all of her expenses for the month, Hogue found herself talking to a financial advisor to find out where she went wrong and what expenses she could lower to balance her budget.

Hogue, who is actually a senior at Sandpoint High School, went through these motions during a "My Life, My Money" live simulation Wednesday as part of the Bulldog Finance Fair. Though she only spent $155 on personal care, she would need to spend less money on clothing to balance her budget.

"Trying to decided how I was going to live with the budget I have, rather than how I am living now, in real life ... that was kind of hard," Hogue said.

The goal, said STCU's finance fair host Keith Appleton, was for the students to have $100 or less in their account by the end of the simulation.

High school senior Cole Hayes, while he had some trouble deciding what house to buy to stay in his budget, ended up with $94.16.

Hayes was a teacher in his scenario, with a combined family income of $5,976. He also had a 4-year-old child, family medical insurance of $350 per month, a student loan payment of $300 per month and $2,246 in credit card debt.

Hayes said the simulation helped him to think about his future and how he will need to budget his money. He found that, for him, housing and food were the most expensive. Hayes said he was going to spend less on items for his kid, but then he felt bad and ended up buying more expensive items for the child and spending less in other areas.

That is one thing a lot of people don't realize, said Marcee Hartzell with STCU, is how expensive kids can be, as well as all of the other expenses adding up.

"We are not here to scare them, but it's reality," Hartzell said.

One big hit for both Hayes and Hogue were the "chance" cards simulating unexpected expenses. Students were required to draw the cards and some were "good luck" and some were "bad luck." Hayes drew a "bad luck" card of $230, though he couldn't remember what the expense was, and Hogue drew a "bad luck" card $265 for an electrical problem.

Unexpected expenses and all of the categories in the simulation are designed to prepare the students for the real world,  said Sherry Wallis, STCU community relations.

"We want them to be prepared for what it is really going to be like to handle money when they are out on their own," Wallis said.

The three main components of finance the students were required to focus on during the simulation were household expenses, savings and charitable giving. Household finances include many of the items mentioned, such as kids, cars, clothing and other expenses, but first, the seniors had to sit down and decided how much they wanted to put away each month for savings and also decide how much to donate to two charities of their choice.

The seniors were split into groups and while half the students went through the simulation, the others participated in a "game show." The game show contestants were split into smaller groups to answer questions about finances. One question, for example, was "Which is the correct order of average U.S. household debt from highest amount owed to lowest to amount owed?" The answer was A: Home loan, student loan, auto loan and credit card debt.

Several prizes were given out during the fair as well, from gift cards to two $500 scholarships.

The major partners with the Lake Pend Oreille School District for the finance fair include STCU, Horizon Credit Union and Selkirk Association of Realtors. Community Assistance League provided SHS with a grant for the program, and North Summit Church provided the place for the event.

Jeralyn Mire, SHS postsecondary counselor who helps organize the event each year, said the finance fair started at Coldwater Creek eight or nine years ago. When the company went bankrupt, Selkirk Association of Realtors, Horizon, STCU and the churches stepped in to make it even bigger, Mire said. And Geraldine Lewis, Lake Pend Oreille School District trustee and president of Panhandle Alliance for Education organizes the volunteers each year. Mire said community members "love it" and return year after year to volunteer.

"They all make it happen," Mire said. "... Everybody does a little piece and everybody carries the weight, so it's really nice."  

Wallis said STCU provides financial education throughout the communities served by the company. The education includes curriculum for kindergarten through adult. The purpose of the finance fair for high school seniors is to teach them basic budgeting skills and how to make wise decisions on how to spend money while running a household.

"We think it's really important, especially for young people who are getting ready to graduate from high school, to understand the basics of handling money,' Wallis said. "We want them to think outside the box in regards to they being in control of their money, rather than their money being in control of them."

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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