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Students practice handling finances

By: Carol Percy, Reporter Lincoln News Messenger
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Stephanie Teykaerts talked sternly Friday to six high school students at the Lincoln High School gymnasium bleachers.

“This is a life simulation,” said Teykaerts, the Golden 1 Credit Union in Sacramento’s member education coordinator said. “You can make mistakes here so you don’t have to make them in real life. You’re going to get an identity. You may not get a divorce or kill yourself.”

Taykaerts organized the “Mad City Money” game event. Held for the first time in the Sacramento region, the interactive program’s goal is to teach junior and senior high school students how to handle their personal finances, according to credit union representatives.

“This program helps get young people pointed in the right direction so that when financial temptation and bad influences inevitably materialize, they will be better prepared,” said Michael Lee, Golden 1 Credit Union’s member-education manager.

Friday’s program in Lincoln High School’s old gymnasium attracted 100 students. Set up like a job fair, the event featured eight booths, each one representing an expense category with names such as, “Really Realty, Gotta Eat, Big Wheels, Mad City Mall, My Closet and Mary’s Little Lamb Childcare.”

After Taykaerts’ orientation, each student was given an “About Me” bag of materials which included a checkbook and a simulated identity. It included a job, spouse, children, and credit card or school debt. The goal was to purchase housing, a car, food, furniture, clothing, childcare and incidentals while staying within a prescribed budget.

“They tend to overbuy,” Teykaerts said. “We encourage our volunteers to really sell to them. The person in the booth tries to get them to buy the most expensive car on the lot—just like in real life.”

After examining his identity materials, Lincoln High School senior Evan Colley, 17, said to his friends, “My wife makes more than I do.” He was listed as a veterinarian assistant who made $1,826/month; his “wife” a postal worker. They had a 2-year-old named Jenna (photograph included) and $426 in credit-card debt.

Joanna Armor, one of 12 event volunteers, worked the Mary’s Little Lamb Childcare booth. Students given virtual children stop at the booth to buy diapers, baby food and clothing.

“The kids are so funny,” Armor said. “They say, ‘Babies are like — so expensive.”

In addition to checkbook and identity, students got another shot of fiscal reality. Two roving volunteers, “the fairy of fate” (played by volunteer and parent Candi Schipper) and “the fickle finger of fate” (played by Russell Flores, Golden 1 branch manager) handed out windfalls and setbacks in the form of cash rewards or bills. The setbacks, costing anywhere from $25 to $600, might include unexpected dental work, a sick child or a car problem.

Lincoln branch managers Stephanie Marks and Salise Boggs, volunteers at the faux credit union booth, said the “setbacks” were realistic and a valuable concept for students to learn.

“I think it’s really important that the kids learn to balance a checkbook and budget for a rainy day,” Marks said.

Lee said the event idea originated with the Credit Union National Organization in Wisconsin.

“It’s to get students in the mode of prioritizing their spending, finding out what’s important to them,” Lee said. “Is it more important to have a brand new car and live in a rented apartment or to buy a house and ride the bus?”

The News Messenger asked why the credit union hosted Friday’s event.

Lee said the event “was a way to give back to the community. And, we’d love for them to be future customers.”