When it comes to driving home financial lessons, a little reality can go a long way.
With an eye on the future, since 2005, America's Credit Union Museum has been quietly doing its part to help the next generation become more financially savvy with its CU 4 Reality Financial Education Program.
"Spending money has never been easier and during these challenging economic times, it's even more important to educate our youth about their finances," said Bill Ryan, financial education program director at the museum.
He added that's where CU 4 Reality has helped by providing financial literacy coursework that covers everything from budgeting and savings to investing.
"This past year has been interesting especially with the stock investment game, which basically introduces kids to the idea of how to grow their money," said Ryan. "So they go online to do research on their 'investments' and track how their portfolio is doing. Obviously, since the economic downturn, it hasn't been as much fun, but the experience has given them a better understanding of what their parents are going through and we've heard that it's helped spark important conversations about money."
The program wraps up with the CU 4 Reality Fair, which gives students a chance to get some hands-on experience in spending and budgeting. Given a career, a realistic starting salary and a monthly net income, students are challenged to cover basics such as housing, utilities, transportation, clothing, and food while factoring in additional expenditures such as entertainment and travel. Throughout the fair, there are many temptations for additional spending, and students must learn to balance their wants and needs to live on their own. After the students have visited the various booths covering components of independent living, students balance their budget, and then sit down with a financial counselor for review. Those who end up in debt or haven't made good choices are sent back to the beginning with tips on where they went wrong.
"It's a great reality check as they visit the different booths and figure out what's involved in being out on your own for the first time. And there are lots of eye candy distractions along the way, so they really are forced to make some tough spending decisions," said Ryan.
Recently, New Jersey credit unions have also turned to financial reality fairs as a fun, effective way to deliver financial literacy to high school students around the state. The move is in response to a challenge issued by the New Jersey Credit Union League earlier this year for New Jersey credit unions to provide as much financial literacy education as possible for one year. The league has been tracking the progress of each credit union through the use of attendee evaluation forms-one for older attendees and one for classrooms of young students that a teacher or parent-guardian can fill out for the credit union. The top credit unions from each asset category will receive two $1,000 scholarships; second place will receive two $750 scholarships; and third place will receive two $400 scholarships. The scholarships can be provided to members of the credit union's choosing. Challenge results will be available after April 30, 2011.
Across the bridge, this summer 15 New York credit unions for the second consecutive year offered Money & Me sessions teaching more than 200 teens crucial financial skills in a fun, interactive setting.
The weeklong program developed by the New York Credit Union Foundation, offered a series of hands-on lessons about budgeting, saving, maintaining a checking account, credit advantages and pitfalls, and planning for the future. It is a mix of the National Endowment for Financial Education High School Financial Planning Program and supplemental components from Junior Achievement, television series Biz Kid$, the brass student program and FoolProof.
"Over and over again in this recession, we've seen the profound impact of financial illiteracy on people's lives. By teaching youth about money management today, we can help them avoid common pitfalls and gain the skills they need to achieve their goals and dreams tomorrow," said Diane LaVigna-Wixted, executive director of the foundation.