SAN FRANCISCO (11/18/14)--The San Francisco-based consumer service website NerdWallet recently featured a growing trend in financial education that's offered in a school setting: Credit union-hosted reality fairs.
Reality fairs throw students into real-life situations that simulate what it's like to make financial decisions based on predetermined budgets and personal situations.
A wave of these fairs are "popping up in gyms across the country to teach teenagers about budgeting, handling a checking account and the value of a dollar," the website said.
The fairs listed by NerdWallet range from those put on by the Credit Union National Association, called "Mad City Money," to America's Credit Union Museum's "CU 4 Reality" to the Connecticut Financial Reality Fairs.
"Hopefully any kid in high school can have an opportunity to go to a reality fair and get this experiential learning about what it costs to be an adult and what it costs once you get out of school," said Gigi Hyland, executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation, which works to make the fairs more widely available.
During the Connecticut fairs, students start with a random credit score, a credit card with a random balance, a spending limit, a checking account and student debt.
At a recent fair, one teen purchased a big-screen television for each room of his fictional house, Fred Brown, president of the Hartford Chapter of the Credit Union League of Connecticut, told NerdWallet, perhaps illustrating the need for these types of programs.
The Richard Myles Johnson Foundation in California puts on its own programs called "Bite of Reality" fairs, the article said.
During those events, students spend two hours visiting various booths, or shops, to spend their incomes on needs, or potentially on unnecessary luxuries.
While students can rectify any spending mistakes they make at the end of the "Bite of Reality" fairs, the consequences of how they spend their money still resonates with them, according to one reality fair organizer.
"In the real world, you don't just get to return your house, but here they do," said Lee Alderman, assistant vice president of training and financial literacy at Redwood CU, Santa Rosa, Calif., with $2.4 billion in assets. "It's a conversation. It's not us lecturing them."