This post was written by an eighth-grade student in Broward County, Florida.
Field trips are always welcome because they are a disruption from the routine days in the classroom. On a typical field trip, I and other students get to spend time together on the bus to and from our destination, talking with each other when we would normally be doing classwork. Between the bus rides, we get to visit a destination that cannot be brought to us at school such as a zoo, a museum, a historical site, a park, or a business. During the visit, we get to see new sites and listen to adults explain what we are seeing. While there is usually more activity in walking than in a normal school day, field trip experiences rarely ask me or other students to do much. And I was not expecting a field trip on financial literacy to be any different, but I was very wrong.
Confusing & Abstract Financial Concepts
Deductibles, net monthly income, and credit score–all terms that we come across in some form or another quite often, but many people my age, including myself, prior to this course, have very little understanding of what they mean. Gaining an understanding of these concepts and other related financial topics can lead to major benefits later in life, but how to learn these often-confusing ideas can be a challenge. Simply reading about them in a textbook or watching a few videos may be the simplest solution to learning them in a school environment, but that won’t stick with a lot of students and may leave them without a full understanding of how to apply the concepts they learn.
In the weeks leading up to the field trip to Finance Park, my class spent time each day learning and practicing concepts that would aid us on the trip. From researching and budgeting the purchase of a car to figuring out how to calculate taxes taken off a paycheck and figuring out how much money to put in emergency savings, we went through a comprehensive course on the financial concepts that adults have to deal with in their daily lives.
The day of the field trip arrived, and it was time to be an economic adult for a day. During the trip, each student was put in the perspective of needing to manage rent, a car loan, income, and other personal financial matters of the adult world. The truly enlightening portion began when I stepped off the bus and into Finance Park. Finance Park is housed in a big building–kind of like a small indoor mall – with large rooms off a wide, central corridor. Each room has an open entrance and is a separate business. Banks, fast food, health care, and other companies – eighteen in all – make up the community.
After an introduction to what we would be learning, we were each handed a tablet and sent to our respective employers, with mine being the Publix grocery store. We signed into our tablets, and the day started off with a survey asking about what level of education we hoped to pursue, how many vacations we hoped to take annually, and other aspects of our lives that would be impacted by our job and salary. I put in my answers and was assigned the job of advertising manager for Publix. I was also assigned a credit score, current savings in different categories, current debts, and living situation. For the day, I was married with a child, 30 years old, with high educational debt but a decent credit score. Next was probably the most boring but most important part of the day for what was to come: calculating my net monthly income by deducting taxes from my given income. This may not have been the most exciting, but it was a great way to learn about the necessary calculations all adults make or at least deal with, and one major “real-world” application of math.
After we were done with our deductions, we began to travel from storefront to storefront, learning about necessary spending, smart shopping, possible career paths, and how to apply for loans. In my home store of Publix, we learned about the most budget-conscious ways to shop, like how some stores may have better quality goods than others at similar prices and how to take advantage of return policies when food goes bad. At SunTrust bank, we learned how to manage our money by depositing it in savings and how to apply for loans. While at the Toyota dealership, we were taught about car insurance prices and other long-term expenses that come along with a car. During this walk in the Finance Park, we got to apply for a car loan and a home loan, and you could get either accepted or rejected depending on your credit score. I was lucky enough to get accepted, as I had been assigned a score deemed high enough. These, plus learning about trade schools, college, and all the things you need to divide your paycheck into, made for an incredibly interesting time that I will not soon forget and one that will aid me in years to come.
As the day’s closing approached and we had learned about the key financial concepts that Finance Park had to offer, it was time to apply them in the day’s finale. We arrived back in our home stores, and using the knowledge we had gained throughout the day; we divided up our net annual income into all of the categories we would have to spend it in: stock market investment, home furnishing, childcare, savings funds, and groceries. We had to buy what was necessary without spending too much, and striking that balance required thinking about what we really needed to spend our limited money on. By the end of the day, after making decisions about how to budget our paychecks, we went around spending our money at different locations and were told how much we had leftover. I was fortunate to have a relatively high salary, so after budgeting, I had $2,000 remaining of my $84,000 net annual salary.
Relevant Lessons for My Future
After this, the trip was over and we headed back to school with a far greater knowledge of what our parents are always stressing about and what we will have to understand as adults. I do not think I could have learned these ideas nearly as well in a typical school environment, as being able to go out and get hands-on experience with money management truly deposited these skills in my and my peers’ minds, where they will likely last until we will need them ourselves. I did not expect the experience to linger in my mind the way it has. I learned the reality of what lies ahead for me is tied to the choices and efforts I make now and in the coming years.
Maintaining an understanding of real-world issues like personal financial matters is important. Field trips help students learn these lessons as well as give them a break from the day-to-day learning in the classroom and allow them to experience more hands-on learning.