Our first Financial Literacy Fair is popular with seniors

Seniors learned the importance of budgeting on Friday as they made their way through the school's inaugural Credit for Life fair.

Held in the gymnasium from 9-11 a.m., the event was designed to give students an idea of the financial responsibilities -- obtaining a job in their technical area of study, finding a place to live, buying groceries, setting aside money for retirement and handling unexpected expenses -- they will face when they leave Whittier at the end of the school year.

Approximately 150 students in the service cluster -- culinary, health occupations, child care, cosmetology and marketing -- visited 10 different booths to plan out their lives.

Each senior received a monthly allotment of approximately $3,400 and were randomly given a credit score, which dictated what they could and could not afford.

At one station, students spun the "reality check" wheel, which featured unexpected circumstances in life that needed to be factored into how they budgeted for expenses. Students had to account for things like car accidents, unforeseen medical expenses and in some lucky cases, an inheritance or a raise at work. School Resource Officer Jamie Landry also made his way around the fair, handing out speeding tickets to further complicate students' budgets.

"Our financial literacy fair introduces students to expenses they will incur once they start their own jobs," said Hospitality Teacher Cathie Baines, who organized the event with Marketing Teacher Linda Sarno. "We made sure to create realistic prices in each category so our graduating seniors could get a look into what it costs to live in real world. You get caught speeding and you're like 'Really? A $60 ticket?' That's another expense that affects your monthly allowance."

Haverhill resident Chris Leeper, who is in health occupations, had a 600 credit score and focused on spending his monthly allotment moderately. He opted to take public transit instead of buying a car, renting in what is considered a less safe neighborhood over others, and doing his own laundry as opposed to getting it dry cleaned.

"I think it's a fun, interesting way to see what real life is going to be like," he said of the Credit for Life fair. "I'm doing things conservatively because that's how I actually live."

Dakota Walker, of Haverhill, also worked to stay within her budget, focusing on spending money on items that she needed -- like food and insurance -- versus things she wanted, like a fancy vacation or a lot of clothes. She also incurred an unexpected $120 medical bill after spinning the reality check wheel, but felt confident she could work it into her spending plan.

"I'm not really high maintenance and I don't really go on vacation -- maybe once a year, but a lot of people make that their priority," Walker said. "I think it's nice that our school put on this event and is doing something for us prior to graduation.

"The event was made possible through a $5,000 grant from the financial education innovation fund, which is administered through the Office of Economic Empowerment. Whittier plans to recreate the fair next year and include the junior class in the activity.

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Whittier Tech