Westerville News & Public Opinion

Money lessons sometimes are painful for students

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Westerville government students are learning how to deal with real-life budgeting through a district partnership with KEMBA Financial Credit Union.

For two days in government class, students are lectured about important financial issues, such as avoiding debt and saving money, and assigned jobs, salaries and spouses before having to make decisions on transportation, health care and housing while paying for fixed expenses such as childcare and property taxes.

They're given the goal of having money left over to save at the end of a week.

"You have to know how to manage your money or you'll run out," said Westerville South High School junior Josephine Serwaah after completing the exercise Feb. 20.

Serwaah ended her hypothetical week with a surplus, though she acknowledged that some of it was luck of the draw, and she balked at some of the expenses, such as groceries, which were $600 a month for her imaginary family of three.

"I started off with good luck because I only had one kid. I think if I had three, I would have struggled more," Serwaah said.

The worst part for Serwaah?

"Taxes. I don't like taxes," she said.

KEMBA has volunteered time in Westerville schools for years, vising classrooms to present financial information when requested, said Madelyn Fisher, KEMBA's lead of member services at its Westerville branch.

Last year, KEMBA presented its program in AP government classes as the district examined ways to incorporate a financial literacy program into one of its existing classes, a state requirement that must be enacted for the graduating class of 2014.

The program was such a success, Fisher said, that KEMBA is presenting the program to all government classes in the district this year.

Rick Shearer, a KEMBA human resources employee who presents the program, said the goal is to paint a realistic picture of regular expenses for students while teaching them the most basic and important financial lesson: Put money into savings before making purchases.

The second day of the program involves assigning students a job with salary and a spouse with a salary.

They then visit stations around the room, rolling dice to see how many children they will have, spinning a wheel that can give them either a bonus or an expense and making decisions on purchases such as transportation, groceries, insurance and childcare.

"It teaches them about making more realistic choices. It gives them a better idea of what things really cost," Shearer said. "They don't realize how expensive things are in the real world."

The partnership between KEMBA and the schools fills an important gap in students' education, Shearer said.

"Too often, the schools assume that parents to teach it, and the parents assume the schools are going to teach it," Shearer said of financial literacy.

Junior Aleah Carey said she learned the impact expense-related decisions can have on a monthly budget.

For example, Carey said the price of a car hurt her in the end.

"I should have taken the bus," Carey joked. "You have to choose what's best for you."

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