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Students across Arizona learn how to better financially plan, budget

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Alex Gonzalez

(Arizona News Connection) Last month was Financial Planning Month, and as the year comes to an end, one event aims to help high schoolers in Arizona learn how to better manage their money. The "Bite of Reality" fairs across the West engage high schoolers by assigning them a persona and students then having to create a budget accordingly. 

Sarae Bay, assistant vice president and manager director with the GoWest Foundation, said her organization works with credit unions in Arizona and help sponsor the fairs. She said the exercise is an opportunity for young people to "experiment and make mistakes with finances in a realistic but safe environment."

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© - leolintang

"They complete a 90 minute budgeting exercise, and it really helps give students a realistic look at money management by updating their budgets in real time to see the true impact of their everyday as well as planned purchases and expenses," she said. 

Bay added participants' fictional persona will include an occupation, salary, credit score, possible spouse and child and debt among various other considerations. They then visit "merchants" to purchase items such as housing, groceries, transportation and child care. When they find themselves in a bind, local credit unions are then able to offer guidance.

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iStock - Mamphotography

More than 90 "Bite of Reality" fairs have reached 9,000 students across the West, including Arizona. Bay added that students have left the real-life simulation feeling more prepared to make better financial decisions, and says adds that while all young people's situations are different, no one can go wrong with learning how to better manage their money.

"So the more practice they have in a safe environment, where they aren't going to have a catastrophic mistake that is detrimental to their credit which would impact their ability to find an apartment to live in, or get a small-business loan or a graduate-school loan down the line, it is really, really critical," she continued. 

Bay said having been a financial educator and counselor for many years, she knows many people "cringe" at the thought of making a budget and says a simulation exercise like "Bite of Reality" has made doing so less of a burden and more interactive, hopefully leaving participants with important life-long skills.