Great lessons for young students

On Friday morning I was one of the community volunteers who helped employees from the Alpena Alcona Area Credit Union with the credit union’s teen financial reality fair for Thunder Bay Junior High eighth-graders. This was the third time I was able to help out and it’s a great event the credit union sponsors.

Our area schools are providing more and more hands-on learning for students with the emphasis on STEM programs that give students a chance to work on ROVs, robotics, get out and do studies on waters, etc. These are great learning tools and help students with practical uses for what they are studying and discover new career possibilities.

But the teen financial reality fair the credit union sponsors might be the best learning tool students can have.

Not everyone is going to grow up and work with robots or computers, or be scientists and researchers. Everyone, whether they are rich or poor, or a good job or bad job, will have to deal with money and making their way through life.

The students at the reality fair are exposed to what it’s like to have an income and have to deal with living expenses, from buying a car to paying rent to furnishing an apartment and more. They have a snapshot of what a month will look like in terms of money coming in and going out.

The students receive a worksheet that tells them what their job is based on interests they filled out previously and what their monthly income is after taxes. They also receive a credit score so they know what interest they will pay for car loans.

Before the students head off and make their purchasing decisions they write down how much money they want to save each month. At the end of the event they tally all their expenses and subtract them from their income to find out how much they saved for the month.

I worked the credit union table with Kelli Rondeau where we helped the students navigate getting a car loan. Some students clearly were making sure they had plenty of money left after their expenses, as they “purchased” inexpensive cars, while others bought vehicles based on what others were buying. One boy told me the ins and outs of the truck he was buying and why he bought it.

Every time I’ve done this — and I’ve worked the car loan table every time — there is a student who comes back after changing the vehicle they purchased to redo that part of the worksheet. Each time the student didn’t have a high-paying job and purchased a new vehicle. It’s a quick, easy lesson they learned and hopefully one they remember when the time comes to get a real vehicle.

One girl who I helped had a “career” as a veterinarian with a very health income and a great credit score. I asked her if that is what she wants to be when she grows up and she kind of smiled and said maybe.

This whole event is a great learning tool for students and gives them a glimpse at what life is like in the real world. While there are a lot more variables in the real world, they get exposure to what life might be like when they get out on their own.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had conversations with people through the years where someone has said how great it would be for students have a full year where they learn all about personal finance. The conversation about said class is similar to this teen financial reality fair, but takes it further where they learn about balancing checkbooks, keeping budgets, etc.

The teen financial reality fair really hits the right age group, though all students could benefit from it. These students are at an impressionable age, and something like this shows them not only the cost of daily living, but the possibilities that might be there if they thrive at their education.

I enjoy volunteering for this event because you can see some of these kids really are learning from it. I applaud AAACU for doing this.

Steve Murch can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5686. Follow Steve on Twitter @sm_alpenanews.