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Seniors get financial reality check
Colin Patton left claps as Ketchikan High School senior Darin James gives a thumbs up after learning he “had a baby” at the health care table during the Financial Reality Fair on Feb. 7. Staff photo by Alaina Bartel

Daily News Staff Writer

A few Ketchikan High School seniors went into the Financial Reality Fair on Feb. 7 in the Craig Family Gymnasium at Kayhi not knowing that they would soon be having a baby.

It was, of course, a figurative baby that was assigned to them at the event — but it definitely felt real to some when taking their monthly budget into account.

The Get REAL Financial Reality Fair is an event geared toward creating money-savvy young adults. Tongass Federal Credit Union invited the Financial Reality Foundation, out of Wasilla, to Kayhi to put the event on. It was hosted by the foundation’s project coordinator, Brian Headdings.

“How many of you are familiar with the Game of LIFE?” Headdings asked the group of seniors. “Today’s kind of like a big interactive Game of LIFE for you, because today, you’re going to get a life.”

The students first had to visit the career-choosing table, where they could pick from 120 different occupations. Among those occupations were included a taxi driver, stock broker, plumber, dental assistant and artist. On their budget sheet was their chosen career and how much money they’d make every month at an entry level position in the field.

Some of them not only got a life, but a family as well. The sheet also included if they were married; if and how many kids they have, and their names and ages; and if they had a spouse, their spouse’s career and monthly income.

From there, they were told to put their lives together. There were 10 tables set up in the gymnasium — health insurance; daily living, such as groceries; communications, like cellphones; the bank; a loan officer to borrow money; a part-time job table if they didn’t make enough money; family life; a credit score table; a random life event table; and an entertainment table.

Nicole Holt was an adult volunteer at the entertainment table. Some fun items on their table included dance classes, concerts, movies, sporting events, camping, golfing, music lessons, fitness classes and a hot tub.

Holt seemed passionate about her goal that day. If someone left her table without buying something fun, she’d badger them a bit for living a life of all work and no play. If they bought at least something fun, she told them to “enjoy their life.”

“Our job as volunteers is to try to get them to make poor decisions,” Holt said. “We’re not here to help them, we’re here to, not hurt them, but get them to try to buy hot tubs when they don’t have the money to buy hot tubs.”

Across from her entertainment table was the random life event table, where students took turns spinning a wheel that would end up on a category. They would then choose a card randomly based on that category, and 50 percent of the cards were helpful life events, and the other half were not.

The “family” category on the wheel could surprise them — they could draw a “you just had a baby” card. When that happened, the event volunteer rang a bell, the room erupted in applause and laughter, and the student was given a “Congratulations! It’s a baby” sticker to proudly wear around for the remainder of the day — or until the end of the event.

They could also be awarded a baby at the health insurance table, which was across the room.

Darin James was one of those lucky students.

“Uh oh,” James said. “I just had a baby.”

He drew the baby card at the health insurance table, and volunteer Colin Patton immediately grabbed the bell and excitedly lifted it in the air and rang it, while the rest of the room looked upon him and cheered.

Since he had a baby, that inevitably affected his credit score. The students all started out with a 700 credit score, and with each life event that occurred — and with every purchase they made — the credit score was adjusted.

The students had to visit each table to make purchases and to make it to the last table — the financial advisor table. There, a financial advisor would take a look at their budget sheet to see if they overspent. If they did, the advisor would give suggestions on what they could do differently.

Rachel Guyselman, the operations and marketing manager for Tongass Federal Credit Union, said the company she works for “strongly believes in financial education and improving financial education,” and that’s why they sponsored the event.  

“It’s been a great collaboration and I do want to point out that we have several volunteers from (just about) every single financial institution in town,” Guyselman said, adding other table volunteers come from many other institutions, or they’re community members that wanted to help.

Tara Edwards was another volunteer at the event. She’s a business loan processor at Tongass Federal Credit Union. Edwards said the seniors enjoyed the event, and it got a lot of them very engaged in their money management.

“As we’re actually showing kids how to make better choices … it helps us overall,” she said.

Some of those students that Edwards and other volunteers were helping included Kali Alvarez and Victoria Adams. Alvarez chose the career of a radiology technician, making more than $3,000 a month.

Alvarez doesn’t know if she wants to be a radiology technician when she graduates, because she’s not sure what she wants to do yet. She said her favorite station was the communications table because it’s the area she spent the least on.

The most difficult station for her was the daily living table — where the students could buy groceries, pets — like horses — and more.

“It was very convincing to buy more of the expensive stuff,” she said. “I learned that you have to watch how much you spend because it adds up very quickly.”

While some didn’t enjoy the daily living table, others thought it was fun to build their dream house. Adams was one of those students. Adams chose the career of a nurse, because she wants to be a nurse practitioner when she graduates. In her fake monthly budget, she made about $4,500.

Her least favorite station?

“Probably health care,” she said, “because no one ever wants to deal with insurance.”

Adams learned that it’s better to start cheaper with monthly spending, and “once you know at the end, you can add more stuff.”

“I went pretty cheap, and I’ve got like $1,700 left as my total, so I can go buy another car if I want to,” she said, adding why she thinks the event is important for people her age. “I think it kind of gives me more of an idea — like this is actually what’s about to happen when you graduate.”

That’s the kind of stuff Guyselman likes to hear.

“I love hearing the kids, how they feel about it at the end,” Guyselman said. “Like — ‘Oh my gosh, kids are so expensive,’ and, ‘I’m going to go home and thank my parents, I found out how much food I really do eat, how much I cost.’”