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More than 300 AHS seniors attended a mandatory financial education fair at the school in early April. At the two-hour fair, they engaged in interactive simulations about saving, spending and budgeting.

Reminder Publishing submitted photo

AGAWAM — Nicolas Soroka doesn’t plan on going straight to college after Agawam High School graduation in June. Instead, he wants to get a job and work so he can figure out what he wants to do and what his life will be like.

A recent financial education fair — also called a Credit for Life Fair — at AHS helped give him an idea of what he’ll need financially when he’s living on his own.

“I got good information to help me make sure what I’m planning is financially viable,” he said. “The fair helped me really understand what it’s like to live in the real world.”

Soroka, who was one of more than 300 seniors who attended the two-hour fair on April 10, said what he learned will help him be better prepared for higher costs of living in general.

The financial fair engaged seniors in fun and interactive simulations about saving, spending and budgeting based on career choices and lifestyle decisions. It created a scenario in which they were in their mid-20s and making daily financial decisions. Students chose an occupation and then made a variety of financial decisions, ranging from where to live to transportation to insurance to how to save for retirement.

“Seniors are beginning to plan their futures and starting to earn real income from jobs. I thought this would be a good way for them to understand their finances and to see what their futures could look like,” said Lisa Sheehan, career coordinator at AHS.

This was the first time the high school put on a financial education fair, which was mandatory to attend for seniors. Sheehan used a Financial Education Innovation Fund Grant from the state treasurer’s office to fund the event that she planned with the help of Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts and West of the River Chamber of Commerce.

“I found it very informative,” said Rhein Ingham. “I got a lot of details about credit card bills and other stuff I really needed to know. I also learned about taxes, tax returns and other really beneficial information.”

At first, Ingham wasn’t sure the fair would be useful. But when he was there, he realized what it offered and how beneficial it was.

“It was super helpful,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve learned anything about real-life stuff and real-life responsibilities about finances.”

“This fair was a great way for them to experience the reality of how far their salaries will take them,” said Sheehan. “The best part for me was watching students realize they couldn’t afford the most expensive car or that they had to get a roommate if they were going to live and work in a big city.”

Isabella Fleury said many of her classmates thought they could get by pretty easily with just one or two simple jobs and not working that hard.

“But you get a little bit of a shell shock when you realize you may need to work more, get a higher education, a higher-paying job or budget better if you want buy expensive personal items or take those trips that you want to go on when you start out,” she said.

“Rather than immediately going into large expenses, like a nice car or a really nice home, you have to start out at the base and then build up from there,” added Fleury.

Sheehan said students also learned about credit scores and how low credit scores can make buying things cost more — especially when using high-interest rate credit cards.

“Students did get a chance to receive a better score if they went to a credit booth and took a survey to raise it,” she said. “It was a lot of fun watching them really think about their futures. Some went back to the beginning and started all over once they realized their salary wasn’t going to match their needs and wants.”

Soroka said learning about credit cards and credit scores was very important: “You need a good credit score.”

So, the first thing he did after the fair was apply for a credit card.

“I want to build my credit so I can have decent credit and move out as soon as I can. I want to really start living my own life — it was cool to see what that might look like and the expenses that come with it,” said Soroka.

Ingham said he also learned “critical information” about credit cards. “I found out how to get one and why it’s important to have one, how it can help increase your credit score and how a good credit score helps you financially to get other stuff, like a house and a car.”

Isabella Castro said the fair taught her more ways to budget her finances and pay attention to her paychecks, as well as not spend money in places she shouldn’t.

“In addition to paying off college loans, I didn’t realize how much food will cost me every month, or how much I’d need to spend on clothes, rent, utilities and stuff like that,” she said.

Fleury’s top takeaway from the fair was, “We got a worldwide view of what life is going to be life when we’re not living with our parents and using their money. It gave us a good lesson about what we need to earn to be happy and survive financially.”

mlydick@thereminder.com | + posts