SANDPOINT — Houses, cars, utilities and food are some of the expenses high school seniors have to look forward to as they will soon enter the adult world.
Each year, the Bulldog Finance Fair helps local students prepare for the costs that will soon be upon them. The purpose of the finance fair is to teach the students basic budgeting skills and how to make wise decisions on how to spend money while running a household. As such, each is given a backstory with a job, spouse, family and salary. That backstory, along with the decisions they make during the "My Life, My Money" live simulation, determine whether they go into debt or be able to live comfortably.
"I'm in debt," said SHS senior Teagan Massot on Wednesday as she was little more than halfway through the simulation.
With a salary of $3,000, she was down to $1,000 and still had to pay for a home, transportation and food. The $2,000 had gone to bills, such as utilities, medical, cell phone and internet, as well as kids, activities and more. The problem, she said, is the backstory and salary she ended up with.
"I'm a TV broadcast technician and my husband is a fast food cashier — it's not like I chose this," she said, looking at the life she was given that hung from a lanyard around her neck.
She also had one "kid," she said, which is where half of the $2,000 had gone.
In addition to the community donation and typical expenses such as food, transportation, housing and kids, students were required to choose things that might not be monthly expenses such as a laptop or other electronic device, but is typically something they will need to purchase at some point. They could also pick fun activities such as movies, concerts and bowling.
Wednesday marked the ninth annual event, held at North Summit Church, and while it is the Bulldog Finance Fair, it is attended by seniors from Lake Pend Oreille and Clark Fork high schools as well. Several community partners come together for the event, with major partners to include Community Assistance League, which provided the grant for the program; STCU, which provides the materials for the finance fair; as well as Horizon Credit Union and the Selkirk Association of Realtors. The event is also sponsored by North Summit Church, Taylor and Sons Chevrolet, Second Avenue Pizza, Alpine Shoppe, North 40 Outfitters, Yoke's, Panhandle Alliance for Education, Starbucks Coffee, Lake Pend Oreille School District, Lewis and Hawn Dentistry, Larson’s and Super 1 Foods.
Geraldine Lewis, president of PAFE and Lake Pend Oreille School District trustee, said the community partners operate the stations that the students rotate through during the simulation, with volunteers filling in as needed. Lewis organizes the volunteers and said 80 to 85 percent of the volunteers return each year.
"The community volunteers love this event," Lewis said.
As one of the community partners, CAL operates the "My Community" table, where students are required to give back to their community by donating $50 to a local organization. The purpose is to help kids think about giving back to their community both in their resources and their time, said CAL member Anne Cosgrove. SHS postsecondary counselor Jeralyn Mire said one of her observations of the students over the years is that students have taken more interest in giving back to their community following the event, becoming more "community-minded."
CAL member Bobbie Franklin said the finance fair is an "amazing" event for the students.
"It's a great way to teach kids how to budget money and to confront life," Franklin said. "I never had this, so it took me a while to figure it out."
Joshua Siedeman with STCU said giving the students financial skills now helps prepare them for when they encounter real expenses. The credit union provides financial education in communities, offering adult workshops as well as youth education, he said.
"We find that there are a lot of these basic skills where there is not another area in the school system or at home that necessarily covers these experiences and this kind of knowledge," Siedeman said.
There is data out there, he said, that shows this type of education works and people are better able to manage their money after going through such programs. STCU uses numbers pulled from real data to give the students an accurate average of the cost of living.
Siedeman said he is currently a college senior, who finished his on-campus classes and is interning with STCU. At this point in his life, he said, all of the expenses are becoming reality.
"I don't have to worry about a mortgage payment or having a kid yet, but I know that those are right on the horizon," he said. "Managing your money is harder than you'd think. So just having a little bit of a head start — anything helps, honestly."
Mire said the finance fair is a sort of "right of passage" as the seniors typically hear about it ahead of time from their predecessors. They dress up, and many are excited to learn about about life as an adult, she said.
Another observation Mire said she has made over the years is more students are weighing the pros and cons of attending college in state or out of state as they think about student loan debt and their future.
"They want to be wise consumers," Mire said. "They want to go into their adult life being aware and making good choices, which is exciting ... They are interested in it — they are excited to learn about it."
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.