MARQUETTE - Many Marquette Senior High School freshmen, forced to plot out their theoretical financial futures, got a serious dose of reality last week.
More than 200 freshmen spent weeks researching a possible future job and its average salary parameters. Then, during Thursday's Reality Store, the students took the role of adults and planned every aspect of their budget, including insurance, mortgage, vehicle and child care costs.
Garee Zellmer, a Marquette Area Public Schools employee and one of more than a dozen Reality Store volunteers, was overseeing the personal care booth, where students budgeted for make-up and personal hygiene products.
Saving money, as depicted by the iconic piggy bank image is among the life skills Marquette Senior High School students learn in an educational program called the Reality Store. (Journal file photo)
Shopping for clothing and food are also skills taught. (Journal file photo)
"Some of them think they need to have a really nice car," she said. "But when it comes down to brass tacks, you have to have shampoo."
Zellmer has volunteered at the Reality Store before - she returned because she thinks the experience is vital for students.
"I think it's really important," she said. "We send our kids out on their own, sometimes without the skills to help them be adults. We just assume they can do all this."
Each group of students spent roughly an hour visiting each of the 12 booths: housing, utilities, food, child care, transportation, insurance, clothing, medical/dental, personal care, savings/investment, travel/entertainment and reality check.
Sarah Carlson, a Kohl's employee and Reality Store volunteer, helped students determine how much they would spend on clothing each month. She said some of the participants have unrealistic expectations and the exercise gives them a chance to look at their possible future in context.
"I didn't have anything like this and when I got out there, I was terrible at budgets and finances," Carlson said. "Just absolutely horrendous."
In the weeks leading up to the Reality Store, student Danielle DeGarmo decided to become a daycare worker; for the purposes of the exercise, it was determined randomly that she was the single mother of a toddler.
DeGarmo selected budget-conscious options across the board and when money ran short, she picked up the highest-paying second job she could find: She became a farmer.
After hitting every booth but entertainment, she crunched the numbers. DeGarmo - the full-time daycare worker, part-time farmer and single mother - had $55 remaining each month.
If given the opportunity to recreate her fake life, she would do at least one thing differently.
"I would change my career," DeGarmo said. "There is just not enough money to get everything you need and want."
MSHS teacher Lisa Jahnke has been organizing the Reality Store for nearly a decade and said many students reach the same conclusion as DeGarmo.
"That happens more often than not, and that's what we want them to figure out," she said.
The goal of the Reality Store is to inform freshmen and to prepare them for a world in which they will have to budget effectively in order to succeed. As such, the students aren't allowed to role play extremely high-wage earners, like actors or athletes.
"We tell them to hope for the best and plan for the worst," Jahnke said. "You may be a great actor or a great hockey player, but what if you aren't?
"Anybody can live on a million dollars, but if you don't make it, what is your second choice?"
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.