Muncy holds financial reality fair

CARA MORNINGSTAR/Sun-Gazette Students gather together at the end of their budget experience to total up costs and see if they have any money left over with the help of financial advisors during the Financial Reality Fair at the Muncy Junior-Senior High School.

MUNCY — Helping students learn the responsibilities of adulthood, Muncy High School recently hosted a financial reality fair to guide students through the process of having to pay bills and balance finances.

“It’s about introducing students to balancing a budget and the real world aspects of assets and expenses as they move through life from housing, to clothing, to food … from when they get a paycheck to at the end of the month, still have money remaining,” said Heather Zimmerman, Muncy business education teacher.

Students gathered at different booths and talked to volunteers from different community organizations, including booths to help them pick out phone plans, cable and internet bills, food expenses and housing costs.

“They’ve all volunteered their time. Students visit the different stations like gym and fitness, pets, and so on. They walk through the process,” Zimmerman said. “They have to select how much money they’re going to spend on that particular expense, and then the volunteers help guide them to maybe cut back so they have money remaining. It’s to balance a budget.”

She said the fair was for sophomores, juniors and seniors.

“Approximately 250 students will be going throughout the fair,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for students.”

Hopefully, the students have a better understanding of a budget after going through the stations.

“There’s many statistics that show that students once they leave high school don’t know how to balance a budget, and once they come to the real world of when they get their first paycheck, they need to know how to properly spend their money,” Zimmerman said. “They also need to know how to save money.”

Prior to going through the stations, the students did work with picking careers to figure out how much money they would have given the career path they chose.

“It has a starting salary, and they figure out how much education to take to get through that,” Zimmerman said. “A budget was printed for them. They go through the different stations and jot down how much they spend at each station. At the very end, they meet with a financial advisor to hopefully balance their budget and hopefully end on the positive side with money remaining. If not, they walk through where they can cut expenses.”

She said this was the second year of the fair.

“PALCO Federal Credit Union heads it and organizes it,” she said. “I work with them … to get everything set up.”

Tom Rachael, president and CEO of PALCO Federal Credit Union, said that the experience is vital for students’ education.

“We’re teaching students what life is all about. They get a budget and find out how much money they can spend for different things. Kids don’t really get a lot of that in schools anymore,” he said.

In the event, Rachael was in charge of the “Reality Wheel,” a large spinning wheel that listed random positive and negative random occurrences that can happen in a person’s life. Students got to spin the wheel, and whatever event it landed on was adapted into their scenario. They could lose a wallet, get a divorce, win the lottery, get a professional promotion or have their identity stolen.

“They might get a car break down or a tax refund, something like that,” Rachael said. “It’s interesting to have them go through it. I had a student say, ‘I don’t want to grow up.’ Another one said, ‘I’ll just get another job.’ It’s not always that easy.”

He said it’s important for students to understand the impact a budget has on their lives.

Michelle Hart, marketing coordinator for PALCO Federal Credit Union, said the fair helps students understand what happens after school.

“We try to bring financial literacy to the students,” she said. “Basically, we’re giving them a real life experience on housing, food, clothing and what life is like once they leave school and graduate. They all picked a career … and they’ll go through the booths to pick what they want to do.”

Their goal, just like everyone’s goal, is to have money left over after expenses.

“It’s experience of what life is like once they get out of school. For a lot of them, it’s an eye opener because they sit at home with mom and dad paying everything,” Hart said.

She said she received a lot of positive feedback after the first time the fair happened in Muncy.

“It’s a neat experience,” she said.