Marlborough – Thanks to the ninth annual Reality Fair, held Nov. 15 at Marlborough High School (MHS), students in the senior class now have a better idea how to manage a monthly budget in the real world after graduation.
Organized by the Marlborough Rotary Club, with assistance from the MHS chapter of Business Professionals of America and the Marlborough Regional Chamber of Commerce, the fair offered a financial learning experience in the format of an interactive game. Representatives from about 30 businesses helped the students balance a paycheck.
Peggie Thorsen, the event chair since its inception in 2004, believes the format is beneficial.
“If we lectured to kids in a classroom about budgeting, then it would do as much good as a parent telling them they can's have this or that because they can's afford it,” she said. “This format is a game and it's a challenge for them. They have to perform all these tasks and come out a winner. That's engaging. And when they'se engaged, they'se going to learn something.”
Students chose from a list of over 50 careers. Each career had a predetermined salary with Uncle Sam taking his share.
The first stop was the paymaster, where students received play money as a one-month salary. Next, they visited various tables, where volunteers guided them with the costs of transportation, insurance, housing, utilities and daily living needs. Suggestions were also offered regarding loans, credit credits, savings and checking. Students recorded their “cash” transactions and the volunteers initialed their ledgers.
Each student took a mandatory spin on the Wheel of Fortune. If they were lucky, they collected “cash” by landing on spots such as “Lottery Win” or “Tax Refund.” However, many risked bankruptcy by landing on “Speeding Ticket” or “Unplanned Pregnancy.”
Kaitlyn Larrabee was among the fortunate students.
“I got a $600 inheritance on the wheel,” she said. “I's putting it in savings because I want to save to buy a house for when I eventually ditch my roommate.”
Her friend, Kelly Leander, had less luck at the wheel, but looked at the bright side.
“I needed to get dental work that cost $250,” she said, “but I still had some money left.”
Paula Ogden, director of financial aide at Quinsigamond Community College, helped students determine how much they should expect to pay toward a student loan.
?”I's usually one of the last tables they visit,” she said. “When they get to me, they usually don's have any money left, so I tell them to go back to Verizon and give back that big phone. If you'se going to go to school for four years, then you'sl probably have a loan to pay.”
Javier Linares, who wants to be a corrections officer, visited her and was surprised when he was advised to study for four years
“It will take four years to be a corrections officer?” he asked her. “My uncle is a police officer and it took him two years.”
She replied, “With this economy, what happened years ago is not necessarily what's happening now.”
Then she collected $200 “cash” as monthly payment toward his student loan.
Students gave their ledgers to a credit counselor to ensure they successfully completed the game. Bonnie Doolin, the Rotary Club president, was among the volunteers acting as a credit counselor. She said most students finished with money left in their budgets.
“I remember the first year we did this, kids bought exotic cars and spent lots of money upfront,” she said. “But now, they'se being really reasonable. Nobody is going out and buying a BMW. They'se making progress toward being grown-ups.”