Center for Financial Empowerment Teaches Baldwin Park Teens Smart Money Habits Through Interactive Simulation

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More than 140 seniors at Sierra Vista High School in Baldwin Park, a suburb outside of Los Angeles, get a "reality check" in personal finance thanks to the Center for Financial Empowerment’s “Mad City Money” event.

Sierra Vista High School seniors Favian Esparza (left) and Laura Lopez (right) learn about budgeting and personal finance at the Center for Financial Empowerment's "Mad City Money" event.

“My partner and I had to exchange our big house for a smaller house because we ran out of money for things like food and transportation,” said Sierra Vista senior Laura Lopez. “I thought we were going to be able to manage our money fine.”

More than 140 high school seniors at Sierra Vista High School put their personal finance skills to the test during the Center for Financial Empowerment’s “Mad City Money” event – a financial reality simulation event for teenagers.

During Mad City Money, students are assigned a life scenario, complete with career, debt and insurance payments – even a spouse and children. They also received unexpected windfalls and had to visit stations to pay for housing costs, just as in real life.

“My partner and I had to exchange our big house for a smaller house because we ran out of money for things like food and transportation,” said Sierra Vista senior Laura Lopez. “I thought we were going to be able to manage our money fine.”

Other stations were set up to simulate additional expenses, including – food, cars, electronics, clothes and childcare costs. A credit union station was there to help teens make better financial decisions and show them the importance of budgeting effectively. “I learned that money is spent faster than earning it, especially for basic needs,” said Lopez. “I’ll be sure to be smarter about what I spend and will make sure I buy what I need before something I want.”

“Fate Cards” with different monetary expenses were distributed at random to teach students to prepare for what they don’t see coming. “You can’t teach kids that these unknown expenses are going to happen, but this is a good way to teach them how to handle it when it does,” said Sierra Vista economics teacher Jeff Hehir.

Additionally, students were taught to be on the lookout for fraud by making sure they keep track of their simulated belongings. Players who dropped items, like their debit cards, fell victim to fraud and were penalized. “I didn’t expect to have my debit card taken away. I learned to be careful with my card,” said Sierra Vista senior Crystal Auduong.

Studies have shown that students who’ve taken economics and personal finance courses are more likely to save money and pay off credit card bills in full each month. These teenagers are less likely to be compulsive buyers, max out credit cards and make late payments. Financial education courses are not currently a prerequisite for high school graduation in California.

“We recognize the importance of educating students about personal finance as much as possible before they enter the workforce or go off to college,” said Abby Ulm, manager of the Center for Financial Empowerment. “Interactive courses like Mad City Money teach them financial literacy and prepare them for the real world.”

Sierra Vista senior Favian Esparza added, “I believe Mad City Money gave me a better idea of what college will be like in the future. It was a reality check.”

About The Center for Financial Empowerment (http://www.centerforfinancialempowerment.org)
The Center for Financial Empowerment is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable agency whose mission is to create more stable communities through financial empowerment for youth. The Center partners with schools and community organizations in Southern California and Southern Nevada to offer financial education, assistance, and improvement programs, giving people the power to make better financial choices and achieve an improved quality of life. SCE Federal Credit Union is the primary supporter of the Center for Financial Empowerment.

About SCE Federal Credit Union (http://www.scefcu.org)
SCE Federal Credit Union was founded in 1952 and currently has approximately 50,000 members, $600 million in assets, several Southern California and Southern Nevada branch locations, thousands of shared branch locations across the United States, and nearly 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs available to members.

SCE FCU serves the Greater Los Angeles and Las Vegas areas, with membership open to individuals and businesses, and is a not-for-profit entity committed to improving the financial well-being of the communities it serves, especially people underserved by mainstream financial institutions. With a strong commitment to volunteerism, employees donate hundreds of hours to local community causes each year. Additionally, the creation of the Center for Financial Empowerment provides much-needed financial education to the underserved and high schools in Las Vegas, Nevada and in Duarte, Baldwin Park, Boyle Heights, Ontario and Lynwood, Calif.

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Lisa Tomita
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