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Coahoma ISD students in grade 8th through 12th were sharpening their pencils Friday in an effort to stay out of the red ink as they participated in the CU4 Reality Fair.

After subtracting his monthly expenses from his income, Keegan Dobbs walked away from the fair with one major lesson: “being an adult is not fun.”

The Coahoma High School junior, who chose the military as his career path, did make thrifty spending decisions. He walked away with a net income of $230 for the month.

However, fellow student Jonathon Schneider learned that although a surgeon's income can be on the high end of the wage scale, student loans can take a large bite out of his monthly budget.

“I went over my budget,” he said. “Student loans really got me. I learned I need to be more cautious with my money.”

The fair is presented by Cosden Federal Credit Union as a method to increase financial literacy among youths.

“It really opens their eyes and helps to prepare them for what they face when they get out of high school,” said Laurie Barraza, CEO of Cosden Credit Union.

A few weeks ago, students were offered a list of careers to choose from and completed a pre-fair survey to evaluate their existing knowledge about credit and overall finance. On Friday, they were handed a budget worksheet that showed their monthly income before and after taxes and space to calculate fixed, variable, and luxury expenses. Their net income is based on U.S. industry standards for their chosen career.

“They have their fixed expenses of things they have to buy like a house, a car, student loans, and insurance,” Barraza said. “Then they have their variable expense like utilities, food. They can also spend money on discretionary items, luxury items. They don’t have to buy those, but they can if they want.”

Participating students must visit each station and although they do not have to purchase any luxury items with their money, the volunteers are told to be very good salesmen, Barraza said.

“When they go into Best Buy, those employees are not going to let them leave without a TV,” she said. “We tell our volunteers to be a really good salesman, and the kids have to decide if they can afford it or not.”

Once through all the stations, students calculate their expenses to see if they have a net gain or loss at the end of the month.

But they are not done, Barraza pointed out.

“After that, they go spin the Wheel of Reality and see if they have an unexpected windfall or unexpected expense,” she said. “They may have a profit at the end of the month but if the hot water heater goes out then they are in the negative. Then the financial advisors will visit with them and go through their expenses.”

This is the first year Cosden FCU has held the reality fair for area schools. The first one was held at the Big Spring High School earlier this year and another is scheduled for Forsan High School sometime in May. The program, designed by the Credit Union League, has been around for years, Barraza said.

She added the fair could not be held without the turnout of community volunteers.

“We would not be able to do this without these local businessmen and businesswomen, and retired teachers, and Rotary members,” Barraza said. “We don’t have the manpower.”

Overall, Barraza said the CHS reality fair was a success in demonstrating how essential strong financial skills are to a successful life.

“The students learned a very good lesson. It was very eye-opening for them,” she said. “They learned living expenses cost much more than they expected. They also realized they may need to think about what occupations they want to pursue after graduation and realized maybe they will want to change their career to something that can provide more financial security. It was a huge success. The volunteers had a blast in interacting with the kids.”

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