Bronco program valuable

Published 8:50 pm Monday, August 17, 2009

One of the best parts about my job is that I meet someone new and learn something new nearly every day.

On Wednesday, I found myself at King’s Fork High School at 10 a.m. for the Bronco Federal Credit Union financial education fair. The fair was an activity for new freshmen at the school during their orientation.

The students were told to imagine they are now 25 years old, and randomly assigned jobs, salaries and children. I also received a sheet. I was an actor making $26,000 a year with a 1-year-old son. The only difference is, I AM 25 years old.

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The students then had to create a budget for their assigned salary which allowed them to pay all the real-life expenses everyone does — taxes, child care, communications, furniture, health, grooming, insurance, medical bills, transportation, clothing, entertainment, groceries, housing, property taxes, utilities and contributions.

The children were let loose in the school’s gymnasium, where booths were set up representing each expense category. The students had to pay Uncle Sam first — as one leader said, “Uncle Sam will get his taxes. He always does.” Then, they were permitted to visit the booths in any order, but had to visit each at least once. If they were running out of money, they could get a second job or visit the help booth, where a leader usually advised them to get rid of their debt and move back in with their parents.

There also was a “Crystal Ball” booth, similar to the Chance and Community Chest cards in Monopoly. Students had to visit this booth and pull out a “fortune” from among the cards. They mimicked the typical “extra” income sources and expenses we all experience — birthday money, car breakdowns and the like.

Several students told me they had learned something new — like the high cost of health care and how much debt can ruin your bank account. One girl even told me paying her taxes was depressing. Yeah … imagine what it’s like with REAL money that you worked for, kid.

The good folks at Bronco should be applauded for devising such a realistic (and fun) activity for teaching the children how to handle money responsibly. The public schools can’t possibly fit a life skills course in with all the testing they have to do, and many of these children won’t get much financial education from their parents, either. The Bronco program just may prevent at least one student’s bank account from going south 10 years down the line, and that’s the important part.