Classes teach money management

May 23, 2011

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Yvonne Jones learned how to save money — and a lot more — in the United Way’s Money Management Mentoring program.

“You gave us the power to take care of our financials,” she told the program’s financial coaches during the program’s graduation last week.

Jones, of Martinsville, was one of 15 graduates of the local United Way’s free six-week program.

“I’ve never been a big saver. This program has taught me how to save,” she said.

Her goal is to save $1,000 within a year and pay off several bills within five years, she said.

“I will learn to say no to things,” she said, referring to spending on “wants.”

Financial coach Sharon McGee said she and the other coaches taught such topics as how spending relates to emotions; people have a responsibility to take care of their money; what students were taught about spending and budgets when they were growing up (often not enough); spending as it relates to marriage and children; and other life skills.

McGee said students were asked to do a lot of self-examination. She said one student told her, “I didn’t realize I didn’t love myself until you asked me.”

Coaches also asked students to each develop a personal spending plan; to focus on needs, not wants; to check their credit scores and dispute anything inaccurate; and to start a savings account, McGee said.

Counting Thursday night’s graduating class, about 100 women have completed the program since it started as a “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty” initiative, officials said. This was the fifth graduating class since classes began in 2009, said Tiffani Underwood, executive director for the United Way of Henry County and Martinsville, which sponsors the program.

McGee said that more than 95 percent of the women who have completed the program since it started have savings accounts now.

She added that the program empowers women.

Terry Holland of Figsboro said, “I came in thinking I had to have money to be happy,” but she learned money doesn’t buy happiness.

She said with a laugh that she is a bookkeeper who couldn’t save money before starting the program. “I’m good with everybody else’s money but my own,” she said.

A couple of things she is doing now to save money, she said, are to take a cup of coffee from home rather than stopping to buy coffee and packing her lunch.

Before the program, Holland had to borrow money from her husband to get from paycheck to paycheck, but now she is saving, she said. “That’s a good feeling. I feel like I can take care of myself.”

“Women have been taught that men handle money,” said financial coach Barbara Cousin. She added that students in the program generally gain self-confidence in money matters.

“Money can be an asset to us, but we have to allow it to be an asset,” she said.

Alesia Hawks of Martinsville, a stay-at-home mom who has two young children and one on the way, said she is looking more carefully at how she spends money. Now her family is eating out less, saving on gas by consolidating trips to do errands and spending more family time together at home, rather than going out, she said.

Sherry Wasoski of Bassett said she changed jobs and has had to adjust to living on less income.

Among the nuggets she has learned in the program are, “Even if it’s a small amount, save something,” and have an emergency savings fund.

Wasoski, 37, said she had not been paying enough attention to where her money was going and had been neglecting saving for retirement.

“I’m almost 40 and haven’t been doing what I should” have been, she said, adding that now she will.

Helen Howell of Laurel Park, a teacher at Martinsville Middle School, said she has taught financial literacy to children and adults. She took the Money Management Mentoring program to get new ideas.

As a result of the program, she is saving more money, she said. She is writing down everything she spends and packing her lunch every night for the next day.

The graduation was held at Patrick Henry Community College, and the graduates received certificates and gift cards.

While the final class and graduation were being held Thursday night, Nicole Cooke, 32, of Axton, was helping look after the students’ children. She graduated from the program last fall.

Cooke said it taught her about the importance of saving, how to cut expenses and how to talk to creditors instead of hiding from them.

As a result of what she learned in the program and getting a promotion and raise at her job at the local SPCA, “I’m able to save at least a third of my paycheck,” Cooke said.

“I’m spending smarter. I’m not buying what I want, but what I need,” she said. She said she is comparing prices now, which she had never done before; is eating out less; and packing meals and snacks more.

When she started taking the class, Cooke was in danger of losing her house through foreclosure, but now she is current on her mortgage, she said. She paid off her car early by paying at least $20 extra a month, which went directly toward the principal, she said.

She said she has gotten closer with her daughter, Claudia, 11, and saved money by spending more quality time with her instead of just going to the store and buying her a present or toy that Cooke couldn’t afford.

“I think our county needs this program. You feel hopeless. This is definitely a hope-filled program. It made me feel better knowing I wasn’t the only person going through this,” she said.


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