Mad City Money teaches high school students the importance of budgeting – Money Perception

FAIRMONT — Ninth-graders across the county got a dose of reality this month during Mad City Money, a spending simulation aimed at helping teenagers learn about saving and budgeting money.

The program, has helped Marion County high school freshmen for nearly a decade.

“It takes them into the future,” Harvey said. “They’ve already finished high school, trade school or college. They are getting ready to start their first job in the career field that they’ve chosen. They’re married and they have a child. They need to buy a home. They need to purchase car insurance. They need to plan child care, and plan out food for the month. Everything that you do in the real world.”

Guiding, or misleading, the students along the way are a series of merchants, played by Marion County Chamber of Commerce members. Harvey said the merchants are there to tempt the students into overspending.

“The merchants’ role is for them to be tough salespeople,” Harvey said. “We want them to get the kids to really think about it. We don’t want to do the thinking for (the kids). We’re taking them into the real world and letting them make these mistakes in a safe environment, and hopefully they learn from them.”

First Energy business analyst Heather Quisenberry and Watson’s Coins and Antiques co-owner Diane Watson were just two of the merchants at North Marion High School’s event, and Watson explained how fun it was to play a “bad guy” of sorts.

“I love to be around the kids and try to be that evil merchant that gets them to overspend,” Watson said. “A lot of it is an eye-opener, because they’re like, ‘I’m only going to spend $75 on food.’ And we’re like ‘Your parents spend more than that in a week.’”

Another twist in the game is the grim reaper-like Fickle Finger of Fate, which roams around handing out “Life Happens” cards to the students, either helping them or throwing a wrench into their plans.

Just like in life, sometimes something good happens,” Harvey said. “You may have sold something and gotten extra money, but maybe you ended up with a flat tire. Maybe a rock hit your windshield. Maybe you sat on your glasses and broke them, or had a death in the family and had the expense of travel. … They could get an unexpected windfall, as well as an unexpected expense.”

Watson, who has worked the event for several years, said playing the Fickle Finger of Fate is her favorite part.

“I usually start out by passing out the bad cards,” Watson said. “Then, when they see me coming, they run to avoid me. Little do they know, I’m coming with good news this time. It’s the reality of what’s going to happen in life.”

Watson said the event helps students better appreciate the sacrifices their parents have made for them over the years, while Quisenberry said that after Mad City Money, students should be better prepared for the real world that awaits them in just a few short years.

“They learn how to budget money, so when they become adults and they get full-time jobs, they will learn how to actually save money instead of blowing it on unnecessary things,” Quisenberry said.