by Dennis Dalman
Many young people (like plenty of adults) are constantly juggling their limited budgets, wondering how they’re going to manage paying for, say, their cell-phone bills and the car insurance and debating whether to pay a bill or two with a credit card so they can buy a ticket to that upcoming music concert they’ve had their hearts set on for months.
Youth (and adults) can get into a financial pinch quickly, sometimes by making rash decisions. Well, along comes “Bonzai” to the rescue. Bonzai is a software program, with workbooks, that teaches young people the intricate skills of financial budgeting. More than 14,000 teachers now use it in all 50 states.
Locally, the program is being sponsored by the Sartell branch of the St. Cloud Federal Credit Union. That business will provide the Bonzai software and the workbooks free for any teacher who wants to teach it as part of any course.
“Teachers are always looking for a program to bring financial literacy to students,” said Leslie Lane, branch manager for SCFCU, Sartell.
Lane added teachers’ goals fit in nicely with SCFCU’s mission, which is also to educate its customers about financial decision-making.
“Such skills should be learned early on – at least by high school,” Lane said. “These students will be the citizens of the future. This program (Bonzai) is a way for us to help teachers and students. Some teachers pay for materials right out of their own pocket. We are excited to be able to offer this program free.”
So far, there are several teachers in the area signed up for the Bonzai program. One of them, Sartell teacher Sue Symanietz, will include the program as part of her class called “Living On Your Own” for grades 11 and 12. Another teacher, Sauk Rapids’ Trude Sowada, will incorporate Bonzai as part of her “Apartment Living,” also for students in grades 11 and 12.
How it works
When a teacher signs up for Bonzai, someone from the SCFCU Sartell branch will meet with that teacher to determine if there are any other needs or resources for the course. The business, for instance, can line up guest speakers who can share knowledge of any aspect of financial literacy.
Bonzai is an interactive software program that can be as fun as an escapist video game, Lane explained. The game varies with each student who plays it. Each is given a set of conditions and a certain amount of money. Then the student has to budget within those constraints. As in real life, the game occasionally throws in a monkey wrench, a factor that can threaten or throw off one’s planned budget, causing the student to re-think his or her money situation. Such “wrenches” can include medical bills, car problems, overdraft fees, parking tickets and wants as well as needs, such as the cost of a concert the student really wants to attend.
“The game is fun; it’s trendy; it speaks to kids,” Lane said, adding students are learning while having fun playing the “game.”
Some of the issues Bonzai addresses and throws into the financial juggle are:
- Getting a car loan.
- The cost of interest payments.
- How to balance a checkbook.
- How to save money.
- How to read bank statements.
- How to draw up a realistic budget, keeping in mind the possibility of unexpected expenses.
- Things you want vs. things you need.
“One of the best things about Bonzai is it requires virtually no teacher classroom prep time,” Lane noted.
The program is available to any teacher in the counties of Stearns and Benton. For more information about Bonzai, call Lane at 320-258-2193.