What is a Financial Reality Fair?

The CT Financial Reality Fair is a 2½-hour, hands-on experience in which students, after identifying their career choice and starting salaries, are provided a budget sheet requiring them to live within their monthly salary while paying for basics such as housing, utilities, transportation, clothing, and food. And some not-so-basics like entertainment and travel.

Along the way there are many temptations for additional spending, and students must learn to balance their wants and needs to successfully live on their own. After they have visited the various booths covering components of independent living, students will balance their budget, and then sit down with a financial counselor to review their standing.

The Fair is a unique opportunity for each student to experience some of the financial challenges they will face when they start life on their own.

An important feature of a responsible financial lifestyle is saving. In the Financial Reality Fair experience, students are encouraged to save a minimum of 10% of their income, placing 3% in a long-term retirement investment, and 7% in a shorter-term investment. The Financial Counselors explore the importance of planning for future needs and preparing for future financial challenges through savings. The Fair will tempt students to spend their income on “fun,” but the financial counselors will bring the focus back to saving and thrift practices.

While many schools provide personal finance classes to teach students how to balance a checkbook and manage savings and checking accounts, it wasn’t until the development of the Financial Reality Fair that students have had the practical opportunity to put what they have learned in the classroom to the test in the “real world.” And while the Reality Fair is essentially “rhetorical”—that is, it’s an exercise in a controlled environment for practical application of budgeting based on the real financial world—it provides a very clear picture of what is to come in the lives of our young people. And for many, it is a real eye-opener.

 A Glimpse of Participation in Financial Reality Fairs