WEST WARWICK — An event held last week in the media center at West Warwick High School invited a group of around 30 students to put their knowledge of personal finance to the test.
Sponsored by BankNewport, the Financial Education Fair was an opportunity for the high school’s Academy of Finance students to apply what they’ve been learning in the classroom to real-world scenarios, BankNewport CEO Jack Murphy said.
“Should you get the iPhone 5, or should you get the iPhone 3?” Murphy said, addressing the students as the fair got underway. “Should you get the Hyundai, the Kia, or the Mercedes? This is important stuff that you need to think about, because your personal finances are incredibly important, and managing your personal finances will lead to success — I promise you that.”
Tables set up around the media center were manned by representatives from area businesses, among them the College Planning Center of Rhode Island; Community College of Rhode Island; Empire Beauty School; Premier Homes Realty; Tasca Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram and Fiat, and OceanPoint Insurance Agency.
Having each chosen a career ahead of time, the students were directed to visit each table, where they would engage as consumers with the various businesses and make spending decisions based on their net income.
At a table run by Cruise Planners, students had to decide whether they could afford to spring for a vacation; a Stop & Shop table had students grappling with paying for food and other grocery items.
And at another table, students mulled over whether or not to adopt a dog or a cat.
Between adoption fees, vet bills and the costs of food and other supplies, pets can be costly. But for seniors Yasumin Vongvilay and Ava Tavares, there was really no question about whether or not it would be wise to adopt a furry friend.
“We got puppies,” Tavares said. “Having a pet is fun, and it’s not too much money. It’s worth it.”
As the grade 11 and 12 students made their way around the room, working out whether they had room in their budgets for a pedicure, or if they could justify paying for the more expensive gym membership, they were also given a taste of how unpredictable life can be.
At the Wheel of Consequence, students had to take a spin to determine what unexpected situation they would face. Would they be charged $600 to make auto repairs, or be down $150 after misplacing a wallet? Might they receive a $750 tax refund, or be awarded a $500 employee bonus?
Aidan Wallad lucked out — a junior at the high school, Wallad landed on “sale on eBay.” He said he planned to apply that $125 either to a car loan or to his rent payment.
The concepts taught in Academy of Finance, one of 10 Career and Technical Education programs offered in West Warwick, are among the most important that students can learn before they graduate, said Marc LeBlanc, the program’s director.
The personal finance lessons taken away from the program, and put into practice during Tuesday’s fair, are crucial, added Charon Rose, the deputy treasurer for financial empowerment and community outreach at the Rhode Island Treasury Department.
“It’s really important that you’re understanding the power in your dollar,” she told the students.
Rose, who graduated from Classical High School in 2005, didn’t have personal finance courses available to her when she was in school, she said. A first-generation graduate from both high school and college, Rose had been clueless when it came to financing her education.
“I made a lot of stupid decisions, like going to a school that was wicked expensive and only gave me a partial scholarship,” she said. “You want to make really smart decisions about what school you’re going to.”
With its Rhode Island Promise scholarship, the Community College of Rhode Island for many is a great option, she said. And for students who want to go quickly into the workforce, trade school is a possibility.
“It really makes sense to weigh all of your options,” she said. “Making a smart decision today, and taking personal finance, will get you lightyears ahead of a lot of people.”
For Ethan Aggor, the lessons learned in Academy of Finance have already paid off.
After being accepted to Yale University, Aggor was shocked to see how much it would cost him to attend the Ivy League school.
“The number seemed really outrageous,” he said. “It was really difficult to convince my family that it’s a place that I should go, that it would be worthwhile.”
Then Aggor thought back to what he learned in class about negotiating. Instead of accepting the first number he was given, he decided to appeal his financial aid award.
The financial aid package Aggor had been offered was based on his parents’ tax returns. But his dad works for a technology education company, and in the year that was looked at by the university he’d made a lot more than usual because of the pandemic.
“They had a board review it… and they took a look at the next year, and it completely changed my expected family contribution,” he said.
In the end, the cost that Aggor had initially been given was cut in half.
Aggor was “very thankful for that,” he said.
“It’s definitely something that I couldn’t have done had I not known about the negotiation process,” he said. “This class has, quite literally, given me tens of thousands of dollars. It’s quite amazing.”