• Feb. 29, 2024

    Juniors take part in Financial Reality Fair

    Financial Reality Fair“I was blown away to learn how expensive life is,” said Nate Stohl, Upper St. Clair High School junior.

    Upper St. Clair High School in partnership with Clearview Federal Credit Union offered a Financial Reality Fair for the school’s 350 juniors on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. The Financial Reality Fair provides students with a hands-on budgeting simulation designed to gain practical knowledge and awareness of personal financial management in a one-day, ‘real world’ environment.

    The event was coordinated by Jared Nicholson, Upper St. Clair High School math teacher, who also teaches a semester-long Financial Literacy course and a College in High School (CHS) Financial Accounting course through Robert Morris University. Parent volunteers helped to staff the many booths and tables throughout the day.

    Prior to the event, students were asked to research the cost of a college they were interested in attending as well as a specific career. These two data points helped to determine a monthly student loan payment amount as well as a realistic starting salary.

    Financial Reality Fair“Using Google Sheets, taxes were automatically calculated and students could see what their monthly ‘take home pay’ would be based upon that salary,” Mr. Nicholson said. “The program was educational, fun, interactive and customizable for students so they could really get an idea of what their future lifestyle and financial success might look like.”

    It’s that broader view of life beyond high school and college that resonated with junior Ryan LaRocco.

    “The event makes me think about life beyond school,” Ryan said. “Right now, I feel so focused on my classes for next year and applying to colleges, but this event has broadened my scope of what my life will look like when finally working and has made me think ahead too.”

    Held in the school’s small gym, students had approximately 90 minutes to budget their monthly expenses to make ends meet while accounting for housing, insurance, cell phone, transportation, food and other essentials.

    “At one table, students would decide which type of home they wanted to live in and find the monthly cost of that home. Another table enabled them to pick a car and car insurance,” Mr. Nicholson said. “After students visited each table and totaled their monthly expenses, they met with a financial advisor to see how much money they had left over each month and discuss what they could do with that leftover money – invest more, save for short/long term goals, pay off high interest debt, donate, etc. If they did not have leftover money, they had to visit the ‘part-time job’ table.”

    Financial Reality FairAs a parent volunteer, Denny Albertini enjoyed being part of helping students learn what kinds of life decisions they will face in the future.

    “I worked the housing options table, and I loved talking with the students as they considered the balance of freedom, amenities, and expense,” Mrs. Albertini said. “I think many students gained a better appreciation for how expensive housing can be. Many weren’t too pleased with the concept of a security deposit!”

    Parent volunteer Gina Swanson helped students with their monthly food budget. Students were tasked with deciding how often they would prepare their own meals vs. eating in restaurants.

    “They all wanted to save money by cooking their own meals, but most admitted that they don't know how to cook much other than eggs or ramen. Additionally, the thought of having to shop for groceries or clean their kitchens didn't occur to them, especially after working all day,” Mrs. Swanson said. “Some of the students admitted a fondness for daily Starbucks, Dunkin, Chipotle or DoorDash – and when I asked them to add up how much they spent in a week, there was often a sense of disbelief.”

    Financial Reality FairThe cost of groceries was a bit of a shock for many students.

    “One student admitted he had no idea that it would cost so much – even at the lowest level of suggested budget,” Mrs. Swanson said. “One of my favorite comments came from a student who wondered how difficult it must be to feed an entire family, not just one person.”

    Students were challenged to find creative solutions to make ends meet.

    “While most students had sticker shock about their food budget, there were some creative suggestions to stretch their budget, including eating at their part-time restaurant job, getting a job where there is an employee cafeteria – where prices would probably be lower, sharing meals with friends (so they didn't have to cook every day) and visiting their parents more often in the hopes of mom cooking (I endorsed this idea!),” Mrs. Swanson said.

    The event inspired junior Ava Kasper to want to start better understanding the importance of saving and budgeting.

    Financial Reality Fair“It was eye-opening how fast expenses add up and how important it is to prioritize what expenses are necessary for you and which ones are not,” Ava said. “It was helpful to be put in a situation where we have to think about what we want to spend more on versus what we can spend less on. There were also expenses I have never thought about, like how expensive pets are.”

    For junior Carly Shontz, the most challenging aspect was the decision-making.

    “When picking the type of car I want to drive, I didn't know if I should get a used/new car or what size car to get,” she said. “I realized how important the decision is because the price range was so different, while also considering other payments/costs.”

    After students had budgeted for their essentials, they had the option to explore and purchase other goods and services including having a pet, hair/nails/spa treatments, gym/fitness memberships, and charitable donations.

    Financial Reality Fair“Knowing that I am close to being an adult is scary, but I feel a lot more knowledgeable and ready,” Carly said. “I know the basic things that I need to pay for and remember when I am dealing with money (that I would not have known about prior to this). I also liked how there were booths for recreational/fun things like nails, pets, and gym memberships! It was nice to know what the regular costs were for these not-so-important parts of life… They can add up fast!”

    For many students, the event was eye-opening. Most had never considered the monthly cost of living independently.

    “The Financial Reality Fair helped me learn more about balancing different expenses that I will have to worry about in the future,” junior Emma Toosi said. “It also made me realize the costs of certain things. I did not realize some expenses cost so much. I’ve never thought about the cost of furniture but after this experience I was shocked by how expensive it was.”

    To keep the simulation as realistic as possible, students were required to visit and spin the “Wheel of Reality” to receive one of life’s surprises. Students would suddenly have to factor in the unexpected cost of car repairs, a stolen credit card, a dropped phone or doctor visit or benefit from selling an item on eBay, a bonus at work or a tax refund.

    Mr. Nicholson finds that grade 11 is a great time to delve more deeply into budgeting in order to have a lasting impact.

    “Juniors are a good grade to do this with because they are starting to get part-time jobs, drive, pay for gas, etc.,” Mr. Nicholson said. “Teaching students important financial habits while young can help set them up for better futures since they will know how to responsibly manage their finances and make financially sound choices from a young age.”

    Parent volunteers agree that the experience was beneficial for students.

    “The kids definitely understood the idea that they needed to look at their overall spending and try to keep everything in balance,” Mrs. Swanson said. “They realized they may need to make sacrifices in some areas to make room in the budget for others. Additionally, there is not one ‘right’ way to construct the budget, but they need to tailor it to their own specific circumstances.”


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