Academy of Finance students cash in on money matters

You know you're exceptional at managing money when your parents come to you to borrow an occasional $10 or $20 — and you're just 7 years old.

Wilde Lake High School senior Taylor Bruner has long had been adept at money matters, and that has developed into an interest that may reap dividends not only after after high school, but also help her and three other like-minded students at Howard County's Applications and Research Lab win a state finance competition.


Bruner, along with seniors Dominique Eaton and Corey Johnson of Long Reach High School and Edward Lee of Mount Hebron High School, have been immersed in finance courses at the county's centralized academy facility. The four competed as the ARL's Academy of Finance team, which captured first place in the Maryland Council on Economic Education's Personal Finance Challenge State Competition.

It wasn't until after claiming the top prize that they discovered how fruitful their efforts were. Each was awarded a first-place prize of $500 and will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the national competition, to be held next month in St Louis.

"I almost cried," said Bruner about learning of the prize. In typically thrifty fashion, she said she plans to "open up a certificate of deposit account or a money market account and work on getting interest on it."

Winning the competition is also a boost for the school system's Career and Technology Education program, which offers career academies in which students can pursue specific careers while in high school.

The Academy of Finance is housed with several other academies at the Ellicott City-based Applications and Research Lab; others are located at county high schools. The competition winners attended both the Applications and Research Lab for part of their junior and senior years while also attending their respective high schools.

The Academy of Finance team entered the competition having had finance experience in and out of the classroom. In addition to being business-savvy from early ages, the four have taken trips to the New York Stock Exchange and have taken part in paid internships.

Then there were their personal stories stretching back to early childhood that taught them the value of a dollar — or even a quarter.

"I could budget my money so well; I was the little kid who always had money. I would work for small chores and going through couches to find quarters," Bruner said. "I would sit there with all of my coins and roll them into bank rolls and go to the bank and turn it in for cash. The bank probably thought I was that little kid with a piggy bank, because it was always a bunch of coins."


Johnson said he learned the value of money after he began receiving $5 to $20 in allowance beginning in the sixth grade. He opted to save rather than spend. "The most I ever saved up was about $200," he said.

Eaton worked at a paid internship over the summer and said she budgeted her money so well that "I'm still spending money that I earned over the summer."

The group prepared for the competition by meeting once a week for two months with their mentor, local certified financial planner John Hauserman, founder of local wealth management firm RetirementQuest.

"They were great to work with," Hauserman said. "They were really energetic, and engaging for the entire time. When we started, investments were their strengths, and taxes … and insurance were probably their weaknesses, and by the end it was probably in reverse."

"They're all really quite bright, and they really have a good grasp of understanding of financial literacy," said Applications and Research Lab instructor Maddy Halbach, who regularly sends Academy of Finance teams to state and national competitions.

"The Academy of Finance prepares the student to become not only financially literate, but also prepares them for college and industry," she said.


This year's group entered well prepared for a competition that included three rounds of tests on such topics as saving and investing, insurance and money management. Competing against 27 teams statewide, the team advanced to the finals by posting one of the two highest scores in the written tests rounds, then captured first place in a Quiz Bowl final round that the local students said had all the trappings of a game show.

It was a far cry from last year, when the Applications and Research Lab students finished among the bottom of the field, in part because they said they were not familiar with the format. This year, they entered the competition better prepared.

Still, they were taken aback by their success.

"What happens is that they flash the scores for each individual test," Lee said. "For the first test, we came in second overall. In the second test we came in fifth, and at that point we were thinking, 'OK, we have a chance at making it into the top two.' And in the third test, we came in seventh.

"I remember thinking that we're going to end up third or fourth," Lee added. "When the final scores flashed up to see which team would go to the Quiz Bowl, it was just amazing."

Asked what he plans to do with his $500, Lee said, "I'm going to use it as spending money in St. Louis."

Then, he added, "whatever is left over will go into savings."