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Redwood Credit Union holds personal finance event to help North Bay students balance budgets

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As he walked around the Elsie Allen High School gym Monday morning, senior Anthony Briseno was stunned as he took part in role-playing that required students to prepare imaginary family budgets.

Briseno was trying to balance his checking account when presented with a “fickle finger of fate” card by an employee of Redwood Credit Union, which sponsored the Bite of Reality event at 15 high schools around the North Bay on the same day.

About 700 Redwood employees took Monday off to participate in the event to help about 3,000 high school students in Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties improve their personal finance literacy so they can be better prepared to manage their money when they go off to college and eventually land that first job in their chosen careers.

The card dealt to Briseno said he would have to pay an extra $200 to get his spouse’s teeth fixed. “What kind of woman did I marry that she can’t afford sparkling teeth?” Briseno said. “Why am I the one paying for it?”

Such reactions were a key goal in helping students, especially seniors, learn financial basics like managing their money, saving and balancing a checking account.

Santa Rosa Schools Superintendent Diann Kitamura welcomed the effort, saying there are not enough financial education courses taught in the district because of the focus on core subjects like English and math.

“There are teachers throughout who do emphasize it,” Kitamura said of personal finance as she watched the interactions between Redwood employee volunteers and students at Piner High School. “It is a request of students. Students are asking for it.”

The credit union employees are hoping to encourage students to learn more about budgeting and the resources available to them, so they will be able to live within their financial means, said Cynthia Negri, Redwood’s chief operating officer.

“They come in as adults and they’re not aware. No one taught them,” Negri said. “Financial education and wellness is our passion” at Redwood.

Although the Santa Rosa-based credit union has administered the personal finance program to area high school students since 2013, this was the first time all of the activities were held on the same day and the entire Redwood team participated.

Students at Elsie Allen and Piner attempted to make sense of unexpected costs, especially when they have children. They moved around their school gym where tables were stationed to pay for monthly necessities, such as housing, child care and vehicles.

Elsie Allen senior Jose Olguin said he was relieved after balancing his monthly budget with take-home pay of $4,897 for him and his imagery partner. Olguin said he had almost $1,581 left for spending money after paying his bills.

“I’m going to Hawaii,” he said.

Briseno, however, needed extra help from Andy Ramos, a senior vice president at Redwood, as he tried budgeting. Ramos said “we have some cool motorcycles over here” for Briseno to buy. “I like motorcycles,” Briseno replied as he went off to check his budget to see if he could afford to buy one.

The reality of avoiding debt, however, forced Briseno to postpone his dream of buying a cycle, especially since his housing costs took most of his imagery salary — an actual reality for many Bay Area residents.

“I got a mobile home. That took most of my money. I got a used car,” he said. “There’s no motorcycle.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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