Learning how to build 'Credit for Life'

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WILLIAMSTOWN — When you're in high school, it's pretty normal to take for granted how your wants and basic needs are met.

"Right it's easy. You go home, you open the fridge, you find food," Ray Miro told a group of freshmen at Mount Greylock Regional High School. "But on your own, you'll have to figure out how to budget. Even a hundred dollars is not a lot, and you'll find it surprising the range people will spend or only have to spend on food," he told them.

Miro was one of about a dozen adult volunteers who helped facilitate the school's first "Credit for Life Fair," a state-funded personal finance initiative.

Business teacher Lisa Mendel applied for and was awarded a $4,700 grant from the state's Financial Education Innovation Fund to host the fair. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation established the fund, and Mount Greylock was announced in August as one of 20 schools statewide to receive a portion of $70,000 made available because of the office's Division of Banks settlement over alleged unlawful lending practices.

For any young person who is thinking about going to college, buying a car or renting or purchasing a home, understanding credit, lending and budgeting are a crucial set of life skills. "Kids should start learning more about finance earlier," said Mendel.

She said the state grant was helpful as the school's personal finance course was cut this year due to budget constraints.

The Credit for Life Fair was designed as a realistic simulation of monthly earning and spending.

Prior to the fair, students met with their guidance counselors to talk about a career they might see themselves in. From there, Mendel's business students helped put together 90 binders for each of the freshmen based on the starting salary for someone in the career field they're interested in. The binders also contained calculators, pens and pencils, budgeting charts and lists of average costs for expenses, ranging from apartment rentals to utilities bills and cell phone bills. Students then visited various tables to chat with representatives — many of whom were Mount Greylock alumni — to learn about and figure out their projected monthly living expenses.

"This is really great. The kids can learn for themselves that they have to be creative with money," said Goodwill Industries Community Development Manager Maryam Kamangar, a presenter and parent of two Mount Greylock students.

Several students were surprised by the differences between a starting salary in comparison the career average salaries they looked up. Ninth-graders Cathy McPartland and Zeta Lenhart-Boyd both chose lawyer as their future jobs.

"When I looked up lawyer, the salary was listed at $129,000 but the starting one is $50,000," McPartland said.

"It's a reality check," Lenhart-Boyd said. "When you're watching TV you see people with all this money buying everything, but this shows you that you're going to have to work to get up there."

Christian Voorhies, an aspiring graphic novelist, said he liked the concept of the Credit for Life Fair. "It helps you plan for the future," he said. "I'm happy this is here."

Seniors Hanna Witter and Tyler Rathbun, and sophomore David MacWhinnie, who helped with the fair, said they wished they had it when they were freshmen. "I don't know much about all this now, and I'm graduating," said Witter, who did pick up some tips.

"Start saving now," said Rathbun. "I think that's the motto of the day here."


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