The Arizona Council for Economic Education (ACEE) hosted a Financial Fitness in Action (FFA) event at Flagstaff High School (FHS) last week to help seniors better imagine their financial futures.
During the two-hour event, 32 seniors taking economics at FHS spoke to a variety of local professionals to create a budget for a potential life scenario.
Each student was given an occupation profile at the start of the event, outlining a specific scenario. Scenarios factored in career, income, household size, health and other factors that could influence a financial situation. The students then went around tables set up in the school’s gymnasium, talking to various local experts who helped them create a budget.
Students took turns spinning the “wheel of life” to add a financially impactful life event to their profile.
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“Economics is the study of choice, and I think it’s important for students to understand that personal finance isn’t a one-all, be-all situation,” said FHS teacher Danielle Bonfig. “Too often money is taboo for students or we don’t talk about it because it’s too stressful when that ultimately leads to stress.”
Everyone received a gift card for participating.
Among the over 20 community volunteers who came to FHS last Tuesday to advise the seniors on creating their budgets were representatives from Coconino Federal Credit Union, ACEE and Northern Arizona University education students.
Kathy Pondy, the director of student programs for ACEE, said the goal of FFA is to help students understand “the real world cost of taking care of a family, based on 2022 incomes and 2022 costs for monthly items.”
Bonfig does eight weeks of personal finance education as part of her economics course — in part using a curriculum created by ACEE. Her reasons for wanting to have personal finance be a larger part of high school education were similar.
“It’s really important for me as a teacher to have students realize there are choices available to them and to find what works for them,” she said. “There’s no one right way to be budgeting. … I just want them to know, hey, you have the power to do what you need to do regardless of whatever might need to happen in your life. I want them to feel empowered and that they know they could support themselves in whatever fashion helps them.”
FHS seniors Ethan Anderson and Dallin Scott were sitting on the bleachers as they finished their budgets. Anderson had been given the profile of a single interior designer while Scott was a credit analyst who was married with two kids.
“He made a lot more money than I did,” Scott said.
He said the exercise had taught him to start with the big expenses when making a budget.
“You have to get out the big ones first,” he said. “We started with groceries and entertainment and stuff, then we got to housing later and, like, ‘Oh, shoot.’”
Anderson said renter’s insurance had been an unexpected expense for him, and that one of the experts had told him it cost more than what was listed on his sheet. Both students said they would be researching insurance more after the event.
“I think you really have to account for everything,” Anderson said. “I think there are a lot more outputs for what you have to pay for in terms of insurance and rent than what you would really think. I think when you’re off on your own and trying to budget with your life, you really have to make sure that you’re paying for all of your needs as a human being. And that’s a lot.”
This is the third year ACEE has held this event at FHS, and the first in person. It was first planned to come to FHS in March 2020, but the organizers had to put the in-person version on hold due to COVID-19. Instead, students met with community volunteers in Zoom breakout rooms to complete the same activity.
It is based on a financial fair created by Flagstaff resident and ACEE consultant Julia Wright when she had taught in Phoenix. Pondy said she liked Wright’s version of the idea as it includes community involvement and asks students to consider financial decisions in a realistic way.
Wright said she hoped students left the event with “an appreciation of what its like to budget as an adult.”
“They’re going to sign their first lease [soon], they’re going to get a credit card,” she said. “They’re in a position to make decisions that will affect the years of their life to come, and they need to understand about credit card fees and interest. … If you get yourself into debt when you’re 18, it’s hard to pull out of.”
ACEE has similar events across the state for students in grades seventh through 12th, as its mission is “to make every Arizona student economically and financially literate.”
The 32 students participating in the event are seniors in the required semester-long economics class (which alternates semesters with government, also a requirement).
Bonfig said the plan is to offer the event each semester so all FHS seniors have a chance to participate.
“I’d like them to understand that budgeting and personal finance is not something to be scared of, it’s not something that’s taboo,” she said. “I’d love for them to go home and be able to talk with their family, like, ‘Hey, I did this. Is this what you have to deal with?’ I think it could open up some really good conversations in the community.”