Shahzeb Lakhani and Alivia Li, both grade 9, are Harker’s latest winners of the H&R Block Budget Challenge! The students each earned $20,000 by coming in second out of thousands of entries worldwide.
Students who participated in the challenge were given a virtual job, complete with a 401(k), credit card bills and student loans. They then had to successfully manage their paychecks for 10 weeks. Li and Lakhani were two of just 10 competitors nationwide to receive the $20,000 scholarship.
Harker has had winners in this contest for four years running. Last year, Luisa Pan, now grade 10, won. Roma Gandhi, grade 11, won in 2017, and Rithvik Panchapakesan, grade 12, won in 2016. Each semester, five awards are given out nationwide.
“I believe that the hardest part of managing my budget was definitely understanding all of the concepts,” said Lakhani. ”Since I planned out the entire challenge within the first month, I had to learn quickly what functions did what. I was able to understand these a lot better thanks to some help from last year’s winner, Luisa Pan.”
He did run into some speed bumps, and managing them made the project challenging. “I found that planning ahead and making adjustments when things went sideways was one of the most important keys to success,” Lakhani said. “Being organized and creating tools such as the machine learning application I applied to predict risk was equally important, because the tools allowed me to make more informed decisions.”
Lakhani gained a practical life lesson, too. “I learned that staying on top of things and checking in often aided in paying bills on time,” he said. “Even when you think all hope is lost and you have no chance of winning as I did, if you keep working hard, things might turn around for you.”
Li noted, “The hardest part of the challenge for me was mainly learning the basics of personal finance in general and how to plan and pay for living expenses. Once I got the hang of using the interface and knew what to check and where to do so, everything quickly became second nature.
“The most important thing I learned through this experience was definitely how to plan out future finances. Getting a good handle on keeping a spreadsheet and staying organized is undoubtedly the most valuable and practical skill I have acquired through the H&R Budget Challenge,” she finished.