South Whidbey teenagers got a taste of reality last Wednesday.
As part of the high school’s efforts to increase financial literacy, students in grades nine through 12 participated in a simulation that gave them an occupation and salary and required them to budget wisely.
The event was inspired by survey feedback. Students reported wanting to have more education about finances and their real world applications.
Financial advisors from BECU, the Boeing credit union, led the event with the help of over 75 volunteers, including parents, teachers, school district employees and community members. Encouraged to upsell, volunteers manned stations as salespeople offering virtual clothing, entertainment, cars, housing and more.
Using an app on their phones, high schoolers navigated the simulation. Many were assigned fictional spouses and children, who they also had to provide for financially. Volunteers posing as fraudsters even wandered the room with fake checks.
Junior Katherine Zundel assumed the role of a zookeeper during the simulation and was undaunted by her monthly income of $2,500. Traveling around the packed high school gym to different stations, she “purchased” a used car, a modest two-bedroom apartment and the cheapest option of child care available for her 4-year-old child.
At the end of the simulation, Katherine was left with just over $1,000, which she split between her savings account and debt payments.
Much to the surprise of the adults volunteering, Katherine’s thriftiness mirrors the experience of many of the other students, who also exercised financial responsibility and restraint.
“The kids were hard to upsell,” said Jamie Zundel, Katherine’s mother who helped volunteer as a car salesperson. “There’s some fiscally committed people.”
Out of the nearly 25 students she spoke with, she was only able to convince one to choose the sports car, the most expensive option. The majority purchased used cars.
“I was also pleasantly surprised, because more than half bought nice cars for their spouses,” Jamie said with a laugh.
Fictional food salesperson Steve Buff agreed.
“They had their minds set,” he said. “There was hardly any opportunity to upsell.”
For Katherine, the simulation helped her learn more about budgeting.
“I do have a job and I somewhat budget for gas, but I’m not totally thinking because I don’t have to pay for food (and other expenses),” she said.
After the simulation, students gathered in the auditorium and learned about credit scores from a BECU financial adviser.
School district technology specialist Sue Ann Brewer and activities coordinator Kayla Phillips worked with BECU after they learned about the credit union’s efforts to educate young people during its day of service.
Despite its absence of a branch on the island, Brewer said BECU was chosen for its kid-focused approach in its financial education outreach.
The South Whidbey financial literacy fair has involved the most students out of any other fair the credit union has led. Because of this, a larger number of volunteers were required to help run the event.
“The outpouring of community support was amazing,” Brewer said. “That’s what helped us push forward.”