Some 28 teens recently took a "Bite of Reality" and learned the basics of finances and budgeting at Century High School in Santa Ana.
The high school students participated in Bite of Reality, a hands-on simulation program hosted by the California Credit Union League’s Orange County Chapter with volunteers from chapter credit unions: Orange County’s Credit Union in Santa Ana, Eagle Community Credit Union in Lake Forest, Fairview Federal Credit Union in Costa Mesa, and Kinecta Federal Credit Union in Manhattan Beach. The program—offered by the Richard Myles Johnson Foundation, the state foundation for credit unions in California—is designed to teach young people the basics of finance in a fun, interactive way.
At the Nov. 20 event, the teens were given a fictional occupation, salary, spouse and family, student loan debt, credit card debt, and medical insurance payments. They then visited various stations to "purchase" items such as housing, transportation, food, clothing, household necessities, and daycare. They battled their way past pushy salesmen, unexpected expenses and windfalls, and expensive tastes to keep themselves in the black, and learn how to budget and make wise financial choices. Those staffing the "credit union" station provided much-needed assistance when some had overspent.
The teens who participated in the program enjoyed it, saying they learned to be more wise in their finances by focusing on purchasing things they needed first before spending money on things they wanted. They also learned about the importance of budgeting and getting a higher education to improve their financial picture.
Alex Hernandez, branch manager at Orange County’s Credit Union’s Ross Street branch in Santa Ana, was among those volunteering for the event. He said the program gives the teens a reality check before getting to adulthood. “In real life, you cannot return a car once you sign the contract—it is not easy to give back,” he said.
“It's exciting to see credit unions and community volunteers working together with a shared passion for education,” said Orange County’s CU Assistant Vice President of Community Development and Education Leticia Mata. “’Bite of Reality’ allows us to share our experiences and prepare our youth in becoming responsible adults. We all have a common agenda in helping our community members become financially stable and self-sufficient.”
"This interactive activity gives teens a hands-on opportunity to experience making financial decisions, and a better understanding of the challenges of living on a budget," said Tena Lozano, executive director of the RMJ Foundation. "And it's all conducted in a fun, low-risk setting."