"We just started and I am already going broke," smiled Christina Lewark who pulled the job of zoo manager.
Over 640 students spend a couple of hours finding out the reality of having to pay their own way at the educational, hands-on event sponsored by Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary Clubs with help from Kappa Delta Phi and Delta Theta Tau Sororities.
Students come with a job and a salary. They arrive at the Reality Store with a checkbook and their gross monthly salary then they pay taxes, utilities, housing and medical costs. They roll the dice to find out how many children they have and have to pay for food, transportation and insurance.
"It's kind of cool," said North Putnam student Jordan Hays. "I'm a veterinarian, married and have one child. I still have some money left. I don't think I had to pay too much in taxes," she said.
The goal of the Reality Store is to get teens to start thinking about their futures and career plan, stress the importance of education and demonstrate the "reality" of monthly living expenses, budgeting and the financial impact of unexpected events.
They have to visit the Wheel of chance that may get them more money, cost them or even send them to the legal representatives with issues like being sued or suing someone else.
"For most of them, the biggest shock of the day is paying taxes," said organizer Jim Maxwell.
Before coming to the Reality Store students look at the life-style they envision in the mid-to-late 20's and choose an occupation without knowing the salary.
They learn to use a checkbook by entering deposits and withdrawals. When they arrive at the Reality Store they find out their annual salary and work on a gross monthly salary.
With calculators in hand, they make the rounds of booths manned by volunteers and discover how expensive life actually is.
They even get to vote on an issue. This year's topic asked if students should love the ability to participate in sports or other school extra-curricular activities if they are caught using alcohol, drugs or tobacco.
The Reality Fair began in 1991 when the Business Professional Woman started it. In 2005 the service clubs took over the responsibility of running the event.
"We have over 100 volunteers working. Each booth has a leader assigned who recruits workers," said Maxwell.
"The Kiwanis have taken the lead because we have a mission to work with kids but we couldn't do it without all the help we get. The Lions make all the food and the Rotary has a lot of business professionals who help out," added Maxwell.
"We're just grateful for all the help we get from everyone," he said.