By Peter Jasinski
Sentinel & Enterprise
April 15, 2016
LEOMINSTER — Can you remember how old you were when you learned what it meant to bounce a check or pay for a mortgage?
For the students who attended the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster’s inaugural Reality Fair, it can be as early as age 11.
“They have no idea what it costs to live,” said Ingrid Adade, a financial-literacy officer for Leominster Credit Union who coordinated the event. “They have no idea what their parents might pay for utilities or for their homes or the cars they drive. This is what life is. This is reality.”
For the better part of the last five years, Adade has been working with the Boys & Girls Club, planning for an event that would help local students with an early introduction to financial planning.
More than 100 students, ranging in age from 11 to 18, participated in the fair, each taking a career-aptitude test that assigned them to an occupation for which they would be best suited. Each was given a salary based on the job, which was then divided into how much money they have to work with each month.
The Reality Fair brought together representatives from local banks, insurance agencies, phone-service providers and other businesses that adults use to provide the necessities of life. Visiting each booth with their budget in hand, students got an early look at what it’s like to make ends meet.
“As they go around to all the tables, they find out how much they have to spend on utilities, whether they could afford cable or Internet, or if they could manage buying organic groceries,” said Donata Martin, the Boys & Girls Club’s executive director.
“Some might come in saying they want a Maserati, but on a lot of these salaries they find out they’re not going to be able to afford it.”According to Adade, the surprises, however, are sometimes positive.
“Some of the students are aspiring to be doctors and lawyers, and they’re mesmerized about how much money they can possibly make in the future,” she said.
Samoset Middle School sixth-grader Tiffany Boasiako was happy with the fact that she was given the occupation of accountant because of her love of math, which is also why she was such a fan of the Reality Fair.
“I think it’s important that you know what you have to do when you actually grow up and go through all of this,” she said.
For Tiffany, the biggest surprise was the cost of a house, with monthly payments being more than twice what she had expected.
For her friend and classmate, Haylee Dean, the biggest surprise was how much it costs to have a phone.
“It’s $154 a month, which is way more than I thought. I didn’t expect it to cost that much,” she said.
According to Elisa Gonzalez, a mortgage specialist with IC Federal Credit Union, surprises weren’t uncommon during the Reality Fair.
“They don’t realize what leaving a light on all day or keeping the air conditioner on is costing their parents,” Gonzalez said. “It’s interesting to see the expression on their faces when they see what these monthly costs end up being, compared to their salaries.”
The biggest surprise was saved for last, when all the students met with a credit counselor to see if their budget plan actually matched up with their salaries.
They learned, hopefully, the reality of living within their means.