Lauren, a senior at Messmer High School, said she once used a check cashing store in a pinch. She needed to cash her check after-hours, but, after forking over $6 just to get her own money, she was left with a bold impression on the practices of check cashing stores: “Bogus!”

During a recent Make A Difference – Wisconsin Board of Directors meeting, Lauren and her classmates Johnnie and Taylor shared stories on budgeting and financial goal-setting they’ve learned from a year in our Money Coach program. To encourage peer-to-peer information sharing, students in Money Coach this year embarked on a competition to get the word out on the importance of using a bank or credit union instead of a check cashing store.

“I wouldn’t use one again,” Lauren said. “I would schedule my time better so that I could get to the bank

[and] keep my money. That was $6 that could have been used for something else.”

The Messmer Money Coach teens decided the best way to reach their peers was at the school’s homecoming basketball game. Students set up a table at the game where they raffled off two gift cards – purchased from combined student savings that were matched by Messmer educator Chris Nienhaus – for students who signed a petition and repeated a pledge to avoid check cashing stores.

Messmer student pledge
“Run, run
Fast, fast
Far, far
away from check cashing stores”

The Messmer group nabbed 75 signatures at the event, and even heard some music along the way.

“Some people were nervous to say it and some were excited. People even rapped or sang. It was fun,” Lauren said.

All of our 14 Money Coach sites – covering more than 125 students – were invited to participate in the first-time contest. Students put together a marketing plan during sessions at our “Savings Bucks with the Bucks” event in January, and have until the end of March to gather signatures from their peers. In April, Money Coach Program Manager Stephaine Crosley will pick two winners for a pizza party, one based on the number of signatures they collected, and another for the depth, creativity and execution of their marketing plan.

In other presentations: teens at Carmen Schools of Science and Technology – South Campus made a formal presentation including a PowerPoint at a school assembly; Washington H.S. students plastered their hallways with fliers; students from Hmong American Peace Academy and Ronald Reagan H.S. conducted skits to tickle the funny bone of their peers. We will share the student projects on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook over the next few weeks, as well as with all of the students during a Money Coach gathering in early May.

While signatures and marketing smarts will be rewarded, the wider goal of the competition is peer-to-peer education on the benefits of opening an account with a financial institution like a bank or credit union, as well as to expose the disadvantages of using check cashing outlets. Check cashing locations vary, from payday loan lender to a bodega to a few big-box stores. Check cashing stores vastly outnumber fast food restaurants in large portions of Milwaukee and tend to prey on “under-banked” neighborhoods.

To find out more about the unique Money Coach program as well as our core Money Sense program, visit here.

-by Justin Kern, Marketing and Communications Manager, Make A Difference – Wisconsin

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