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What Exactly is a Reality Fair?

staff and volunteers at the HFS Reality Fair stand next to their booth

The word “fair” kind of makes it sound like a fun carnival right? Well, it’s not a carnival, but it is fun and a great way to learn about real world skills at the same time! For many, graduating high school or college and entering the real world of work, bills and even starting a family can be overwhelming. The financial responsibility that comes with the real world looks daunting and many schools don’t prepare their students for this reality. A Reality Fair is the perfect way to give students experience in a simulated future where they get to make all the important financial decisions in a safe environment. If they go over budget, there’s no real money at stake, but it’s a great reminder of what could happen some day in real life if they aren’t careful.

A taste of their future

Students that attend the fair are given a profile when they first walk in. This profile contains their future identity. They have a career with a salary, many have a spouse, all have one child and all have to pay for medical insurance, credit card debt and other expenses right up front before they even begin making the tough choices. (These are expenses that us adults know all too well.) Before they begin, staff members from the credit union teach the students how to keep a register where they track their expenses and account balance as they go through the fair. They will learn the difference between debits and credits and even learn how to write a check (which they’ll need to do to purchase a home in our simulation). Once they learn these things, they’re ready to begin!

Facing different financial decisions

The fair is made up of 10 different stations, which all represent important purchases that need to be made. Keep in mind that they are working on a monthly budget so the expenses for each station are based on a month. Students will find a home, reliable transportation (for themselves and their spouse), food for one month, child care and other necessities, clothing and personal hygiene, home furnishings, fun stuff like going to the movies and going to the zoo (life can’t be all boring right?) and even the Fickle Finger of Fate which represents those unexpected expenses (or income) that can happen at any time.

Learning in a controlled environment

Now, if a student goes through all of their choices and goes over budget, they are able to go back and make different choices, but there is a fee for returns at many of the stations. In addition, the Credit Union is always there to provide guidance in real life, so it’ll be no different at the fair. We’ll have credit union staff ready to assist any student that needs a little counseling on making their budget work, or trying to figure out the best options for their situation.

Many students are left understanding what their parents go through every day and even why they may say “no” when their child asks them to buy something that isn’t really a necessity. More importantly, they learn that they can still live a fulfilling life if they are careful with their spending. Quoting one of the students who went through the Reality Fair – “It made me realize I didn’t have to live a bare minimum life, just a careful one”.

This really is a wonderful and educational event that provides the financial education many students are missing. If your Big Island High School Junior or Senior is interested in signing up, registration is open now through October 31st, while spots are available.