Piper High School student wins national Budget Challenge, surprised with a $20,000 scholarship
Piper High School senior Zachary King from Kansas City, Kansas won a $20,000 scholarship for his performance in the H&R Block Budget Challenge, a free financial literacy program that helps teens get real-world ready from the safety of a classroom. The Piper senior is one of five scholarship winners nationwide from the 2017 spring semester and the first from the Kansas City metro area in the program’s three-year history.
“Um, pretty shocked. It’s a lot at once,” King said after receiving the check at a surprise event in the school’s library.
King, a Sporting Kansas City fan, received a second surprise when Tim Melia, goalkeeper for Sporting KC, arrived to offer his congratulations and gifts from Sporting KC, including a personalized jersey and signed soccer ball.
Personal finance education important to teens but not widely available
Seventy-five percent of teens say that learning more about money management including budgeting, saving and investing is one of their top priorities. However, only seven states require high school student testing of personal finance concepts, which means teens across the country are graduating without basic financial skills — like how to pay bills and save for the future.
“It’s a lot harder than I expected. Things add up quickly," said King. “You spend a lot more money a month than you expect. My parents obviously know how much they spend on food and utilities but I don’t. So, having that at least you know a little bit of what a normal person would go through. It’s a lot.”
King had advice for other students completing the program: “Don’t be too reserved with your 401(k) balance. All or nothing.”
But when asked if he had advice or pointers for his parents, King demurred. “I don’t think I’m that qualified.”
H&R Block Budget Challenge helps students become real-world ready
The H&R Block Budget Challenge, a national real-life simulation personal financial education program, helps students master real-world budgeting and personal finance decision making – crucial skills all teens need after graduation.
According to King’s father, Brandon King, one of the benefits of the program for his son was seeing how his choices impacted outcomes.
“He was able to do things and then see where his ranking was. He could see the ups and downs. It really opened his eyes. He learned a lot more than I think he realized he did,” said Brandon King. “He had fun doing it, he enjoyed and had fun doing it as he was learning.”
The H&R Block Budget Challenge is an online game that replicates an adult’s financial life, requiring students to pay bills, manage expenses, save money, invest in retirement and pay taxes as if they were recent college graduates. Participating students from across the nation also compete for college scholarships through the program.
“Everyone who participates in the H&R Block Budget Challenge finishes a little bit more prepared for adulting. And that’s a very good thing. But a handful of students walk away with something even bigger: cash for college,” said Kelli Ramey, H&R Block’s vice president of advertising. “When we saw that one of the 10 best students in the entire nation was in our hometown, we had to come and meet him.”
This school year nearly 180,000 students participated in the program, bringing the three-year participant total to almost 425,000 high schoolers from all 50 states.
What’s next for King
King wants to go to the University of Utah to study computer science and cybersecurity. Both King and his parents cited concerns about the higher tuition costs for an out-of-state school. With the $20,000 scholarship for his performance in the Budget Challenge, they expect he won’t have to worry about his first year out of state.
“We didn’t want him to go into debt his first year. This helps him go to the college he wants to get the degree he wants,” said Brandon King. “It’s great. He worked very hard on this.”
“I guess I just feel pretty lucky and excited that I don’t really have to worry the first year, I can focus on other things,” said King.
By Annelise Wiens
As the newsroom editor, Annelise Wiens is interested in more than just tax and industry news, but the stories of H&R Block's 80,000 associates, their communities and H&R Block's world headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. Wiens joined H&R Block in 2014 from a public relations agency, where she worked with clients in the financial services industry. Before that, she worked as a communicator for a senior member of the United States House of Representatives. She graduated from Biola University in La Mirada, CA with a bachelor's degree in history.
Sharita Hutton and Lisa Patterson also contributed to this article.