Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

It is Christmas Eve and stores will soon close and the staff will be able to go home to their family celebrations.  Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, it is a time when people stop and wish each other season's greetings and seem to be a bit nicer to each other.

To my readers, I wish you Seasons Greetings.  For the world, I wish Peace on Earth. 

And for everyone who celebrates Christmas, Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

First Snow of the Season

Yesterday was our first measurable snow of the season in the Boston area.  A light steady snow all afternoon made for some slick roads that caught pedestrians and drivers by surprise.  My office building is on a hill; there's a one-floor difference between the entrance on one street and the main entrance on the side street.  That steep slope troubled a number of drivers who could not stop at the bottom of the hill and a few parked cars were hit.  Luckily, no pedestrians were hit. 

But it was refreshing to brush the snow off my van and drive home in a white haze of new snow.  It suddenly made the coming Christmas holiday more real to me.  I always want a white Christmas; the snow on the trees and bushes is so beautiful under the night lights. 

The realist in me knows that soon the white stuff will get dirty and ugly.  But the first snow of the season brings on a nostalgia that I relish and lifts my spirits.

Enjoy, be safe, drive carefully, and let it snow!

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.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dec 1 is World AIDS Day

The good news is that the rates of new HIV infections are slowing down worldwide; by almost 20% in 2009.  The bad news is that new infections still outpace treatment successes by 2:1. 

The theme for World AIDS Day 2010 is 'Universal Access and Human Rights'.  World leaders have pledged to work toward this goal.  One thing we can do is stop Tweeting for one day (Dec 1).  The drop in Tweets should be significant and demonstrate how many people believe we can accomplish this and other goals in the prevention, treatment, and spread of HIV. 

The Red Ribbon is an international symbol for HIV/AIDS awareness.  Wear your ribbon today and many other days to show your concern about and care for the many people living with HIV.  Visit the AIDS pages of the CDC , U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and the United Nations for more information and resources.