A Taste of Reality

Reality Fair Helps UT Tyler Students Become Financially Savvy

Fall 2019 Reality FairPublication Date: 05/28/2020

About 40 percent of Americans successfully maintain a financial budget, according to a recent survey from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Roughly 12 percent of those reported not knowing how much they spend on essentials like housing and food.

In other words, people don’t really know exactly how much they could be spending, and one’s natural optimism lets them believe they can probably afford to buy more, which leads to overspending – and an overblown budget.

As part of community service efforts, UT Tyler finance and accounting majors partnered with Tyler’s Cooperative Teachers Credit Union (CTCU) to help area high school students and their fellow Patriots budget responsibly with interactive financial management experiences known as Reality Fairs.

CTCU last year alone reached over 2,000 students through these fairs. Participants are given a unique opportunity to experience some of the financial challenges they may face, according to Meghan Reily, CTCU marketing and business development analyst.

“Financial education for students is so important to help prepare our youth to be successful, financially responsible adults,” said Reily, who oversees the marketing research and reporting at the credit union and also coordinates the fairs. “Our reality fairs get East Texas students thinking about things they may not have given much thought to, such as understanding their finances, budgeting, how much basic household needs actually cost; and the importance of knowing the difference between wants versus needs.”

Students from UT Tyler’s Beta Alpha Psi, an accounting, finance and information systems honor society, National Association of Black Accountants and Finance Management Association assisted CTCU last fall with four Reality Fairs held in Tyler Independent School District, Bullard ISD and the Soules College of Business. CTCU’s Reality Fair at UT Tyler was the first targeted toward college students in East Texas.

“This gave our accounting and finance majors an amazing opportunity to not only get them involved in our East Texas communities, but also share the knowledge they have been acquiring as UT Tyler students to help high school students and their fellow Patriot classmates alike,” said Jennifer Reynolds, UT Tyler senior lecturer in accounting.

How it Works

Here's how a Reality Fair works.

Participants select one of several preselected occupations and are given a budget spreadsheet with the amount of money they have to spend per month, based on their chosen occupation. They will then go from booth to booth making decisions on how they want to spend their money. Booths represent various aspects of independent living such as housing, electricity, food, clothes, entertainment, pets and personal vehicles.

Students then visit with “credit counselors” who work with the students to see how much money is actually leftover and where the students can cut back. If students go over budget, the counselor will give them the option to rethink some of the spending or take on a second “job.”

“Every time we conduct one of these, someone says, ‘I wish they did this for me when I was their age,’” Reily said. Unfortunately, so many of us had to learn the hard way with financial mistakes, and these Reality Fairs give students the tools to be successful, start asking those financial questions and be better prepared.”

UT Tyler accounting major Jack Wright of Tyler volunteered as a Reality Fair “credit counselor.” He was one of the nearly 50 volunteers for CTCU’s fall 2019 events. The current president of UT Tyler’s Mu Kappa chapter of BAP said he has seen a distinct lack of knowledge involving basic finance and money management, having worked in the East Texas banking and public accounting arena the past four years.

“Being involved in these fairs allowed me to give back knowledge that I think is very important and undervalued,” Wright said. “This experience also allowed me to connect with students with different backgrounds and situations and try to show them tips and tricks to help them not feel so lost when balancing a budget.”

The Patriot Who Started it All

Wright said past BAP president Kendall Land Arriola of Scoggins, a UT Tyler senior at the time, introduced CTCU’s event to chapter members and asked for volunteers for both the inaugural UT Tyler Reality Fair and the high school events. Arriola met Reily during a mock interview for a class with UT Tyler lecturer Gail Johnson. When Reily mentioned the reality fair, Arriola believed the event would serve as a great opportunity for their student organization to partner with the credit union.

“I absolutely loved this opportunity to help both high school students and fellow UT Tyler Patriots feel better prepared going into their next steps of life,” said Arriola, who graduated from UT Tyler with a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance and minor in marketing. “Seeing people excited about something that normally causes anxiety was really refreshing.” 

Being involved also helped Arriola herself as she prepared for a finance career.

“I was definitely able to apply the financial skills and knowledge I learned in my UT Tyler accounting and finance classes,” the 2019 alumna said. “I also learned a lot more about communication because I had to figure out how to explain budgets in a way that made sense to people who didn’t understand money in the same way that a finance or an accounting major would.”

Arriola is now an analyst at Trane Technologies on the Decision Science and Advanced Analytics Team. Wright, Arriola’s BAP successor, also is a member of the Risk Management Association, Beta Gamma Sigma, a student member of the East Texas Chapter of the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants; and a sitting board member for the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting. He will graduate with both a Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting and Master of Accountancy next summer.

Soules College of Business officials hope to collaborate with CTCU in future Reality Fairs, Reynolds noted.