They can bank on it

MARSHALL – Bev Welu didn’t know what to expect for sure when she introduced a new money club to fifth- and sixth-grade students in the after school program this past month at Marshall Middle School. But on the last day of the Fantasy Banking class Thursday, after students eagerly shared their enthusiasm and recently-acquired knowledge outlaid, Welu knew for sure that the program had been a success.

“I’m really proud of this group of kids,” Welu said. “They made this project fun. They got so involved in it that they thought it was reality.”

While she was teaching the students about banking, money-managing and decision-making skills, Welu also encouraged the students to have fun. Together, they came up with a variety of educational activities.

“Thanks to a local bank, we received check registers for the kids, and we proceeded to learn how to write a check and about the importance of accuracy,” Welu said.

Welu taught the students how to write out a check, what the memo was meant for and about checking accounts and routing numbers as well. She opted not to introduce credit cards into the program.

“Middle school is a critical time for students to build on financial basics that they take into high school,” Welu said. “I am hoping that the Fantasy Banking game gave them a little insight about what is out there in the real world.”

To make the activity more exciting and realistic, the group decided to make a board game. The students named the Life-like game Banking on It. Each person started the adventure with $200 in his or her mock checking account.

“They moved their token around the board and had to pick a card and either had to credit or debit their checking account per what the card said,” Welu said. “They couldn’t wait to draw a card that said ‘payday.'”

Welu and the students tried to make the cards as interesting and realistic as they could when they were creating them. A student might have to pay $15 for a lost library card, $15 for going to a movie, $100 for getting detention, $100 for buying groceries for their family or $10 for attending a dance.

“I was at 426 dollars, and I had to buy a computer for 500 dollars,” Nevaeh Johnson said. “So then I was in the hole and kept going further down as we played the game. But now I’m up to 256 dollars.”

The experience was a good teachable moment, Welu said, and she asked the students what they thought the bank would do if you went over your limit.

“They won’t let you write checks anymore,” Johnson said.

There were also board game cards that allowed the students to accumulate money. Students could earn $100 for drawing a card that revealed they had sold a vegetable garden, $25 for mowing the neighbor’s lawn or $100 for writing a term paper.

“Being a teen in a modern world can be difficult with all of the electronic and communication advancement,” Welu said. “To enjoy all the latest and greatest items, unless mom or dad comes up with the money, a teen will need to earn the money themselves.”

When Welu first started the program, she focused much of the discussion around wants versus needs. While most students think they “need” a cell phone and a computer, they really just “want” them, she said.

“The reality of it all was that we need food, sleep, air and water, they figured, and we live with a lot of extra toys,” Welu said.

On Thursday, students were quick to admit that items like a flat-screen TV, iPod or a couch were things people wanted but didn’t necessary need to survive. While the students agreed that people needed food, clothing and housing, there was some discussion over whether or not money was a need.

“You don’t necessarily need money to survive on,” one of the students said. “The bad thing about not having any money, though, is that you can’t buy supplies that you need.”

Coupon shopping was another activity that Welu introduced to the middle school students.

“We had to look for clothes, for the lowest deal on clothes,” Eli Houseman said. “We checked E-bay, Amazon and other sites, too.”

Welu pointed out that the students were asked to buy a conservative outfit, but it had to be one they liked.

“The girls were having a hard time deciding on shoes,” Welu said. “They boys were more into hats. They commented on how some brands of clothes were more expensive, and that they’d never really paid much attention to clothing costs before.”

Tristan Zinnel said he spent $61.98 for his clothing selections. Irisha Schultz spent $49 and Johnson $61, both of which included flat sandals instead of the $50 pair of shoes they spotted from Maurices. Those amounts were then deducted from their checking accounts.

“It’s hard,” Schultz said.

Blake Mortensen shared that he spent $42 on three pieces of clothing. Houseman’s response got a laugh from everyone.

“I don’t want to have kids,” Houseman said. “It’s expensive.”

Using grocery flyers that Welu had brought in, the students also shopped for meals for an entire day. For many, it was an eye-opener, she said.

“They were amazed at how much the amount was,” Welu said. “Some figured that they snacked too much during the day.”

The lesson also taught the kids about comparison shopping and choosing the best option.

“I spent 12 dollars,” Zach Olsen said.

Schultz also spent $12, while Johnson recorded an amount of $27.31.

“This class activity is really a basic life skill that they will need for the rest of their life,” Welu said. “They need to set goals and prioritize them and learn how to budget. By having students choose their expenses and visually set the cost of every item they wanted to buy, they soon realized that their money went fast.”

Welu then fielded responses from the students about what they had learned over the past month.

“Balance your money or you’re going to run out and not be able to get what you want and need,” Johnson said.

“Set a budget,” said Mortensen, who ended up with the highest checking account total at $740.24.

Houseman also had good advice.

“Only buy what you need and not what you want,” he said. “Buy your needs first, then if you have money leftover, you can buy things you want.”

Before the money club program, Johnson said she thought that $20 was enough to fill up a car’s gas tank. The students found that it was much closer to $75 or $100 to fill up.

“It takes over $100 to fill my dad’s tank,” Schultz said. “So you should manage your bills before you manage your wants.”

Money Metropolis, an online money banking game, was the final activity the group took part in.

“You had to do certain jobs to earn money,” Stephen Zimmer said.