“This is BECU at its best,” said BECU CEO Benson Porter. “We're working together, helping our members, serving our community, and solving a financial challenge – in this case, figuring out how to create a more stable financial future for these students.”
Closing for Good gives students a crash course on the financial realities of adult life. BECU's 40 locations were closed for the federal holiday, and the entire organization dedicated the day to service.
BECU has been working with Highline schools on this partnership for a year, designing an experience that would be impactful for the district, which has one of the most diverse student populations in the area. As a result, three entire schools – Highline High School, Global Connections, and the Academy of Citizenship and Empowerment – also “closed for good” and suspended regular classes for the day to bring students to the financial reality fairs.
The BECU event kicks off a full week of future-focused workshops for the three schools. Students will spend the rest of this week considering options for college, work and post–high school life.
“We see events like Closing for Good as important learning opportunities for our students,” said High Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield. “Financial literacy is a vital skill for everyday life.”
As employees, we've been prepping for weeks. This is only the second year of Closing for Good, and since last year BECU has hired hundreds of new employees. The excitement and anticipation was tangible as employees greeted colleagues and introduced themselves to new faces. “What's your job today?” they asked one another over and over again. “Did you do this last year?”
Employees were all given an assignment, ranging from behind-the-scenes support to directly working with students. Those working with students were given “roles” to play out during the budgeting simulation – either salesperson or financial counselor.
Students were also given a role. Each was given a persona and budgeting worksheet, which outlined a career, associated annual income and monthly take-home pay, level of education, and any existing debt obligations (including school debts). Careers included pharmacist, dental hygienist, information security analyst, doctor, pilot, psychologist, registered nurse, construction worker, engineer, electrician and more.
“I feel inspired and hopeful,” said Angelia, a teacher. “As a math teacher, having students learn from Closing for Good is incredible.”
The students were asked to set savings goals, and then sent shopping at booths where reality fair salespeople sold them options for one-time expenses and monthly expenses. They shopped for everything from cell phone plans to pets, cars or bikes to vacation packages.
“Things are expensive!” one student exclaimed when looking at the “business attire” clothing package, which came with an additional dry cleaning cost.
“I'm spending way too much,” her pretend-roommate agreed. Others were gleeful, picking out BMWs and resort vacation packages.
After the students had spent (and overspent) their money, they were sent to visit financial counselors one-on-one, who helped them add up their expenses, calculate their credit card payments, and figure out whether they could meet their savings goals. Counselors then helped students make different choices if necessary, and figure out how to stick to realistic budgets.
These one-on-one conversations are crucial. Students can ask questions, examine the impact of their decisions, and experience the power of choosing differently.
“BECU employees spent 4,832 hours all told, working with over 2,000 students,” noted Tom Berquist, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Cooperative Affairs. “Working alone, it would take you a year and a half to talk to that many students if you worked every day for 8 hours a day. That spirit of cooperation isn't that different from what led our founders to start BECU.”
“Of course money is important, but today I learned how I manage it is even more important,” said Joy, a junior.
Many students talked about how they learned the importance of setting goals and of setting aside savings. Financial counselors talked students through making more economical choices, such as living with a roommate, or refinancing their cars through credit unions. They tackled how to use credit cards responsibly and how to cut back on expenses.
“Students now have the right tools to move [their finances] forward,” said a senior student and one of BECU's roving reporters for the day, Angela.
Our Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Melanie Walsh, served as a financial counselor. At the end of a counseling session, a student told her, “Now I understand what my parents are going through when they talk about how much insurance is, or how much cell phones cost. I'm going to be much more appreciative and I'm also not going to ask them for as much.”
That's behavior change. That's real. That's powerful.
Talk to your kids about budgeting at home. Or, if you're interested in an experience like a financial reality fair, attend a budgeting simulation together at Junior Achievement Community Day on November 5. It's free, hosted by BECU, and lunch will be provided.