Saturday, December 11, 2010

All Things Considered...

It has been a busy two weeks at work, leaving little time and energy for blogging.  My evening schedule  began in earnest this past Monday; I've had financial literacy classes 3 nights this week and another one today (this morning, thankfully).  We're squeezing an 8 session course in before the holidays but that means an extended schedule for me.  This gets me into the groove for my tax season schedule, which is right around the corner.  Better I adjust now, as I've got volunteer recruitment and training to mange from here through early January and then tax preparation in earnest through April. 

Why Financial Literacy Now?
As part of the Credit Reform Act of 2009, the federal government is looking at ways to help Americans become financially competent in 5 areas: Earning, Saving, Spending, Borrowing, and Protection Against Risk.  As the holidays approach and people start last-minute shopping and spending, putting some time into understanding how money works can help people exercise a little discipline in that spending.

Many people don't really spend any time thinking through their money.  It comes in; it goes out.  If they don't have enough to buy something, they borrow.  Often, they don't even see overdraft protection as borrowing.  But borrowing has consequences.  Helping them think through those consequences in advance can help them develop a different mindset about money (theirs' and others') so they can make better choices.

That is part of the purpose of our program.  People who have gone through it are grateful for the opportunity to sit and hear, discuss, ask questions, learn, and reflect on the topics we discuss.  We're fortunate that we have half a dozen financial institutions and several other volunteers who help us as instructors.  Our students get this information right from the horse's mouth, so to speak. 

Now, if I just had a little more income...

Everyone Benefits
Yes, I, like everyone else, benefit from these discussions every time.  The students themselves provide a lot of good input - tips for saving at the grocery store, local resources for better purchasing, lessons learned from past mistakes, etc.  Our instructors get the chance to really listen to the people who often have the most trouble with financial institutions.  They get a lot of feedback - both positive and negative - about people's experiences with financial institutions.  This helps them understand the banking needs and issues of the low income community that much better.

The discussion aspect of the program is as important as the prepared materials we use.  By the way, we use the Money Smart curriculum from the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), which is free and available in numerous languages.  They even offer a free one-day training for instructors. 

Does Your Community Offer Financial Literacy?
If your non-profit wants to empower its low-to-moderate income community, consider offering or collaborating with another organization to offer financial education programs.  Changing people's thinking about and around money can have a tremendously positive effect on them in the long term.

You may also be able to get involved with a matched savings program (Individual Development Accounts, or IDAs) that provide an incentive to save towards a specific goal.  You can always contact me for more information.

You might be able to help with or teach in such a program.  In addition to volunteer instructors from the banking/credit union community, we have experienced VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) volunteers and staff from a local CDC (community development corporation) who teach as well.

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