They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but for Lower Cape May High Regional School student Isaac Whitmore and his mother Marilyn Reyes, it does. Whitmore won a $20,000 scholarship from the H&R Block Budget Challenge and is in the running to win the grand prize $100,000 scholarship. Meanwhile, his mother won $1,000 as part of the H&R Block 1,000 Win $1,000 Daily Sweepstakes after filing her taxes with H&R Block.
We spoke to the lucky duo about plans for their winnings and financial literacy education overall.
How did your family react when you told them you had two H&R Block winners in the family?
Marilyn: I posted about it on Facebook and everybody was really excited. I think I ended up posting about Isaac’s win first and then mine. It happened within a week of each other and everyone was saying, “This is your week! This is your month!”
What was your reaction when you found out you won the sweepstakes?
Marilyn: My thoughts when I entered the sweepstakes were “I don’t ever win anything, but I’ll try.” I’m not a lucky person at all. So when I won I was excited and so happy. I still am!
What did you do with the $1,000 you won?
Marilyn: I shared it. Gave some to my son, gave some to my mother and I paid some bills.
Do you and Isaac talk about finances and money at home?
Marilyn: We usually don’t. I stink at budgeting but he definitely knows how to save money.
Isaac, where did you learn how to save?
Isaac: Honestly, I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like a set of skills that you have to learn. It seems like common sense. Just don’t overspend and that’s what I did in the Budget Challenge. Some people in my class didn’t try or said it was confusing and I just used my common sense.
Marilyn: I pay my bills, but I don’t like to save money!
Were you excited when your teacher announced your class would be taking the Budget Challenge?
Isaac: My friends and I were talking about how cool it would be if we won first place, and I thought it’d be cool, but what are the odds? When I first played, I played it really nonchalantly and then I started playing seriously after about a week.
Did you tell your mother you were participating in the Budget Challenge? What did she think of it?
Isaac: I actually didn’t tell her until I knew I was going to win. She didn’t know I was playing a game until a week after the game was over.
Marilyn: I was kind of like, “Why didn’t you tell me?” He wanted to wait to make sure he was a winner. He’s very good with numbers and once he applies himself he definitely goes for it. I told him to give me a heads up! I wanted to be excited and by his side even if he didn’t win.
Marilyn, you mentioned Isaac is good with numbers? Is that something he gets from you?
Marilyn: I’ve always loved math and he definitely gets that from me.
What was your reaction when you found out you actually won an H&R Block Budget Challenge scholarship, Isaac?
Isaac: I was really excited. I was more excited at the fact that I got first place. Out of 22,000 people, only 22 people win and I happen to be that lucky person.
Marilyn: I was super excited. Not only because of the fact that he won, but just the thought alone that my son is getting the opportunity to even go to college.
How has winning the scholarship changed your education plans after graduation?
Isaac: It definitely makes it easier because now I don’t have to worry about all the extra expenses. It feels like a lot of weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Do you have any tips or tricks for how you performed so well in the simulation?
Isaac: The Budget Challenge comes with a budgeting spreadsheet, and it helped me keep track of my bills so I wouldn’t miss a payment or a bill. It also helped me manage all my money. Another tip was to check my emails frequently because in the game, you’re only notified of the unexpected events via your email. I checked it frequently because I didn’t want to miss anything.
Do you see a need for financial literacy education in your community?
Isaac: Yes, very much so because I see many of my friends spend their money on useless things they really don’t need to be buying. You can easily save your money and spend it on something more useful.
Do you think this type of education should be required in schools?
Isaac: I think all schools should teach it because not all parents know about financial literacy or education. The Budget Challenge teaches real-world skills; some things you learn in school might not be applicable to real life, but financial education, that is something you’ll use for the rest of your life.
Marilyn: I wish I had that when I was in high school!
Isaac, do you think the skills you learned in the Budget Challenge have put you in a better position for when you enter the real world?
Isaac: One hundred percent. I’ll be able to apply budgeting in the real world because now I’ve gotten to practice.