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Reality Fair offers Poplar Bluff students check of personal finance skills

POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) - Does your teen need a reality check, especially when it comes to planning for their financial future? 

For almost 300 Seniors at Poplar Bluff High School a fair put on by the school, dozens of local businesses and the Ozark Federal Credit Union provided a hypothetical glance, and test at their future money management skills. 

"It wasn't just about me, I had to think about my family too," said Melissa Lam. "It was harder than I thought and I learned a lot." 

"The reality is most people aren't prepared so it's become a mission for me to give these students a education in financial planning that will give them and their families a better life," said Devine Conover of the Ozark Federal Credit union. 

The goal is that the imaginary test on Wednesday, February 4 will help them avoid a real life wake up call. 

"It was kind of crazy," said Ridge Hester, a senior. "When I had to start thinking about a buying a house and a car and how to finance payments it was a lot to think about." 

Students got a mock budget and family demographic scenario and were put to the test to find a way to make it work. 

"I was a zookeeper, married to a dentist with two kids and I found out we didn't make as much money as I thought we were going to," said Lam. "Plus, we had a four year old so from gas to groceries to clothes we had to think about how it all adds up and how to provide for all of us." 

"A lot of people from students to the public don't realize how much is indeed involved when they consider whether it's better to rent or own and just because something looks better on paper is it really the best option," said Kurt Knodell of Poplar Bluff Reality. "It was interesting to see how when they got to home buying it wasn't just about that they realized they had to balance everything else and that's exactly what families need to consider in the real world. It's not just these students many adults could learn from this." 

"We do adult programs as well," said Conover. "So many are not prepared or even have a grasp on the basic skills. They just see the bills come in and hope the money is there." 

Mossy Oak Properties also found the experience interesting and enlightening for them and for students.

"They have credit card debt and all these other things they needed to take care of depending on their scenarios and it really made the students think about how to avoid obstacles like that when they get into the real world," said Sabrina Ridings of Mossy Oak. 

"We never had anything like this when I was in high school," said Joe Clark of Stinson Press. "It's critical that the kids have real life skills to apply for when they go out into the real world." 

"I had to make sacrifices," said Lam. "I couldn't buy the high-end clothes I wanted to buy. I had to make hard choices for my family overall." 

Students discovered all the little things add up as they went from booth to booth: planning a mortgage, buying a car, paying for groceries. 

"Then of course you realize you have to have clothes and your kids have to have clothes and that is money too," Hester said. "I want to be a doctor and it made me that much more driven to succeed and stay on track. It was for sure a reality check." 

When it came right down to it many students actually failed at balancing their financial life, but organizers and students say that's ok. Some of the volunteers even threw in unexpected emergencies to help them to plan for the unplanned. Some included medical expenses, car repairs or unexpected job loss.

Student say they were glad they failed in their imaginary life during the Reality Fair instead of their real life later.

With 280 participating Seniors and 40 adults, the Reality Fair at Poplar Bluff High School has become one of the largest in the state. 

To learn more about programs like this for students and adults, you can contact Ozark Credit Union at 573-686-7221.

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