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Tue, Jan. 21

'Reality Store' at Prescott High offers freshmen a taste of future costs, realities

Freshman Ava Hlavacheck reviews car purchases with AAUW member Jennifer Bradley. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

Freshman Ava Hlavacheck reviews car purchases with AAUW member Jennifer Bradley. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

Prescott High School’s Freshman Academy students were slapped with a recent dose of adult reality.

Every freshman boy and girl was required to spend about an hour last week shopping in the “Reality Store,” a venture offered through the local chapter of American Association of University Women. For this experience, each student had to consider their age 25 lifestyle — profession, marriage, children.

Here’s a couple of the scenarios: A married physical therapist with year-old twins buys a starter home, a family sedan, food, medical, basic furnishing, clothing, cellphone/cable, entertainment and childcare.

Reality: At the end of the month — after taxes on an annual salary of about $80,000 in Arizona — the family will be fortunate to have $1,000 left, not including any student loans.

Scenario: A 25-year-old single Internet security officer rents a one-bedroom apartment, buys a standard sedan, with all of the other basics, minus childcare.

Reality: Based on a monthly income of $1,785 after taxes, the bachelor discovers he is likely to have only about $50 left in his bank account after essential bills are paid. A part-time job might be required, or some adjustments to his lifestyle wish list.

Freshman Academy at Prescott High is an inaugural, semester-long effort to enlighten all freshman about their school expectations and opportunities. In addition, the students are offered hands-on chances to think beyond high school about post-secondary education, military service and suitable careers for their talents. This “reality” experience, provided by AAUW career professionals and volunteers, was a way to get students thinking about lifestyle choices after high school and college.

And the costs.

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Freshman Academy instructor, retired United States Air Force Lt. Col. Bill DeKemper, right, talks budgeting with student Cameron Cleary. Cleary’s scenario plan was to become career military. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

AAUW Community Action Co-Chairman Pat Mann, a psychologist, said her organization colleagues created this opportunity so students could “be prepared” as they look toward the future. The women manning the various “reality” booths volunteered to provide a real-life look at costs of everything from housing to clothes, she said. Each of them have enjoyed “amazing careers and have stories to tell,” she assured.

Mann advised those contemplating military careers, who while on active duty will have their daily living expenses covered, to remain mindful of what their budget might look like once they resign or retire.

Freshman Academy instructor Jennifer Woods, who heads up the school’s career and technical education program, added to the reality with talk of student loans. Using a conservative $500 a month, Woods advised all who selected to be doctors, lawyers or other high-level health care professionals to deduct that amount from their monthly take-home pay.

Throughout the exercise, AAUW members and academy instructors offered the students’ tips and alternatives to consider as they tracked their budgets.

“This is fantastic,” said instructor Bill DeKemper, a retired United States Air Force lieutenant colonel who leads the high school’s JROTC program. “The kids get to learn the difference between fantasy and reality. And it stresses the skills and education that will improve their ability to get along.”

No doubt, agreed freshman Tanner McDonald.

McDonald said he quickly noticed as he toured the various booths that “stuff costs a lot when you get older.”

The biggest surprise to the bulk of students was the cost of housing and childcare.

Even modest housing tended to be in the $1,000 a month range. Childcare costs ranged from the mid-400s to over $1,000 depending on numbers of children and the number of days used during the week.

Freshman Michael Dowling discovered that even with a good job in the Internet technology field, and no wife or kids, he would have to be frugal.

After budgeting for a one-bedroom apartment, a basic car and other routine expenses, none that seemed extravagant, Dowling said he would likely have only $50 a month to spare.

“So I’ll be struggling,” he said to his friends.

Academy classmate Luke Carmich, whose scenario had him as a married software engineer with an infant, said he found a lot of the required expenses, particularly childcare, to be a “surprise.”

Students Jessica Cope and Zeddi Winemiller both said they appreciated the chance to be realistic about their futures.

“It is a real reality check,” DeKemper concluded.

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