The COVID-19 pandemic put local communities through hard times. Schools and businesses had to change the way they operated almost overnight. This change, however, did not mean that there weren’t opportunities for members in the community to help one another. Our first runner-up for the 2021 Community Spark Award, CNB Bank, hosted a unique financial reality fair and helped equip students with the necessary skills to survive the uncertain times ahead.
CNB Bank hosted a community event: CNB Bank Financial Reality Fair. A financial reality fair is an interactive, fun event for students to experience a simulation of real-life choices related to spending, saving, and budgeting. In CNB Bank’s Financial Reality fair, students had the opportunity to challenge their understanding of needs and wants against their career choice and a realistic corresponding salary. Choices included: where to live, what kind of car to buy, if they are going to have a pet, if they are going to join a gym, and much more.
The purpose of the financial reality fair was to expose the students to the financial decisions they will face as they graduate from high school or college and take that beyond the classroom as a realistic experience to budgeting and managing their money. Money management among young adults is virtually non-existent. CNB Bank had the opportunity in their extensive footprint and through existing community partnerships to make a real impact on these students for life.
The reality fair CNB Bank hosted took approximately 180-minutes, which included an introduction/kickoff, the activity itself (120 minutes – 12 tables @ 10 minutes each), and 15 minutes for financial education/debrief following the activity. In the pilot run, there were 60 participants, all seniors at the high school. CNB Bank had approximately 26 volunteers representing the bank, the community, and the school.
CNB Bank set up the event in the gymnasium, with a table for each major financial decision. They set the tables in a career fair style, color-coded and labeled with a large, poster-on-easel for easy navigation during the activity. Students were divided into small groups and assigned a starting table. One bank and one community volunteer were paired and assigned a table. Volunteers received talking points and pricing sheets.
Students pre-selected a career in their economics class. The economics teacher researched and assigned each student an average salary for the job selected, based on data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. He also calculated estimated payroll taxes. CNB Bank inputted these into the individualized budget worksheets prior to the fair. Leading up to the fair, the economics teacher shared the housing choices and transportation choices (without prices) with the students. They preselected housing levels (buy, rent, live at home) and transportation (public, compact car, mid-size, SUV). This helped them make other choices during the fair without having a bottleneck at the housing or transportation tables. The students also took a pre-survey to assess their beginning financial knowledge and awareness.
As the students visited each table (it was timed to keep the activity moving), CNB Bank introduced the whammy wheel. The Whammy Wheel was a game of chance with various emergencies and windfalls (with corresponding dollar amounts). The students were required to visit the whammy wheel once, but could visit a second time if they chose. Chances such as “broke my cell phone”, “got a flat tire”, “broke my leg” and “won the lottery on a scratch-off” were included on the bank prize wheel. During their time at the whammy wheel, a “career counselor” talked to them about where the students were in their budgets, why they needed to be making an emergency fund, and even conducted mini-interviews for part-time jobs.
At the end of the event, the volunteers helped the students add up their expenses to compare how they did against their budgets. CNB Bank found that some students added things as they went along and started revisions when they realized that they could not support the life choices they made. Students dropped gym memberships and delayed pet ownership. During the debrief, CNB Bank volunteers had the opportunity to discuss ways to help meet budgets and provided feedback to students on the eye-opening experience.
The students and volunteers were given a post-survey to gauge the success of the event and measure the advancement of knowledge. The event was hugely successful and had a significant impact on the students and a positive impact on the community. It provided a base for additional conversations with the students in the classroom and some great community goodwill for CNB Bank’s volunteers and the organization.
Although the pilot of this activity started immediately before the pandemic, CNB Bank is fully implementing the Reality Fairs in their market this year. At the beginning of this year, knowing students were not yet allowed in the schools, CNB Bank modified this activity and presented it to high school juniors as a virtual experience, then transformed it into a live mini-presentation. As with the full event, students were randomly assigned salaries. They made their “lifestyle” choices for housing, vehicles, entertainment, and other options, and were able to see the impact of their financial choices in comparison to their salary. Debriefing occurred in the classroom setting and was paired with other “reality” activities and exercises to help drive financial education on a smaller scale during the pandemic. The “Reality Check”, the name of this mini-reality fair, was followed up with a subsequent day of learning about credit, credit scores, checking accounts, and investments.
As everyone is coming out of the pandemic, CNB Bank has already met with local schools, including the Clearfield County Career and Technology Center, and has scheduled the official launch of their Financial Reality Fairs as part of the 2021 community and financial literacy outreach. Through the partnership with the Career Center, CNB Bank will reach 6 school districts, with plans to spread the event to other markets in the upcoming school year.
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