North East Texas Credit Union staff recently transformed the Titus County Civic Center into a makeshift financial city for some 200 area high school seniors.
Mad City Money, a financial education program NETCU started in 2009, couples high school students with community volunteers to create a simulated city. Students, all seniors, put lessons they’ve learned in the classroom about budgeting and money matters to the test.
Since the program’s inception, over 1,000 students have been trained. This year’s group of students represented Chapel Hill ISD, Jefferson ISD, Mount Pleasant ISD, Diana ISD and Hughes Springs ISD. Paul Pewitt CISD has also participated in the program in past years.
Mad City Money is an intensive six-weeks program that provides speakers who go into the classrooms once a week to teach the fundamentals of good, financial education. The materials, which include a student workbook and instructor’s manual, are provided free to the students and are prepared by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE). Students learn how to properly budget, accounts and fraud prevention, lending and credit, career choices, investment and insurance. At the conclusion of the instructional sessions, students get the opportunity to put into practice what they have learned.
Each student is given a specific set of conditions such as type of career and income. From there, they must determine how much is needed for utilities, insurance, housing, food, retirement and other essentials. Along the way, fate often steps in and hands them an unexpected blow—an additional bill to pay.
“This was a great experience because it taught me how to budget and really watch the money decisions I make,” Kellar Smith, Chapel Hill senior said.
“I learned that life is hard,” senior Whitney McNeil smiled. “I had $8 after I paid all of my bills so I learned that I can’t go to the mall all the time if I’m going to make this all work.”
NETCU Marketing Director Tracie Smith, along with fellow employees representing other branches within the credit union’s system, plan the program each year with several intended goals in mind.
“This is about helping our young people become better educated about their finances,” Smith explained, “so it is very rewarding when you see that they really get how important this program is to their future.”
“For me personally, it’s also been amazing to see how differently students view credit from the previous generation,” Smith said. “This is not the generation of lots of credit cards. They have watched how that can destroy a family and so now they are literally terrified of credit. Our goal is for them to learn how to be more financially responsible.”
“This was very realistic,” New Diana senior Bazinet said. “I learned that life doesn’t always go the way you planned for it to so you have to be prepared.”
“Now I know what my parents go through. This was tough,” senior Dylan Johnson said.
“This was a great experience for the students,” said Shelly Simpson, Chapel Hill staff.
“I think because this was a hands-on activity it really brought things to life for them. Many of the students have no idea what it takes to run a household. This was very valuable to them.”
The Mad City Money program relies heavily on volunteers. This year representatives from Super 1 Foods, RE/MAX , Welch Gas, the City of Mount Pleasant, The Mount Pleasant Daily Tribune, Cypress Basin Hospice, Firmin’s Office City, Luminant, Priefert, Offenhauser Insurance and The Tri-County Press.
“When I was hired six years ago, I was told that financial education should be at the top of my list of things to get done,” Smith said. “Mad City Money is an excellent way to prepare the next generation for a better outlook on their financial health. This is also a good opportunity for the community to get involved and interact with the students. We don’t ask for money from the businesses and organizations; we ask that they donate their time which is also very valuable. We literally couldn’t do this without the volunteers.”