Life is tough—and expensive.
That was the repeated sentiment among Loudoun County High School seniors this week after they experienced Loudoun Volunteer Financial Council's Reality Store program.
The daylong event, held Tuesday in the high school’s gymnasium, gave students a taste of life after high school. The students walked into the high school gym Tuesday morning and were handed a packet that assigned them a career, a salary and a family situation—a life, essentially.
From there, the students visited several booths to learn how much of their paycheck would go to taxes, housing, transportation, food and, for some, childcare.
“That’s half my paycheck,” senior Emma Powers said when she learned it would cost her $1,200 a month in childcare for her baby boy, Fookie.
She and her husband-for-a-day Carter Brown agreed to have a friend watch Fookie every few days, and they would watch their friend's baby on the opposite days.
"We decided to help each other out to both save some money," Emma said.
The best way to get to and from their jobs is what Laurel Hall and Mark Campbell, both seniors, debated while taking turns holding their plastic baby doll.
As they stood in line for auto insurance, they were asked whether they plan to drive to work or take mass transit.
“I don’t know. What’s cheaper?” Laurel asked.
It depends, was the answer she received.
“This is all so confusing,” Mark said. “I am not ready for real life.”
This is the 10th year the Loudoun Volunteer Financial Council offered the Reality Store program, which is put on by an army of volunteer support. Reality Store events also have been held at Tuscarora and Woodgrove high schools this year, and Loudoun Valley High School’s Reality Store is scheduled for May 20.
The council used to host the Reality Store at several high schools throughout the county, but budget cuts have caused the group to trim back the program, according to Tammy Bullock, a business and economics teacher at Loudoun County High School.
“This is such a great program, because as a teacher, I can tell them things, but when they see it in a situation like this it is more of a reality for them,” said Bullock, who’s been involved in the program for seven years. “I always tell them at the end of the day, now go home and thank your parents. Now you know how difficult—and expensive—it is.”