While social-service agencies realize a need to help clients understand finances, there has been a marked lack of local collaboration in making that happen, said Kathy Covey, community service director for Blue Mountain Action Council.
The Walla Walla nonprofit agency touches lives in numerous ways -- housing, energy assistance, food -- that usually include financial components.
BMAC and other Walla Walla organizations recently participated in a training facilitated by Port Jobs of Seattle, Covey explained. "Before, we never have had a consistent way of being sure we are infusing our curriculums ... so that we are counseling people about what to do from that first paycheck, including building assets."
It's the sort of thing case managers have done forever, usually instinctively or with isolated information. The Port Jobs class gave many stakeholders in the local social-services circle a cohesive approach, she said. "My idea was that everyone would take (the class) and build it into their current offerings, put an emphasis on financial literacy using the material they all got."
Matt Mazur-Hart sees a lot of people who could use a dose of money education at BMAC, where he works in transitional housing with people who start off homeless.
He meets with his families every other week to set and work toward self-sufficiency goals, including eventually weaning off help with rent.
It begins with budgeting basics. Mazur-Hart, a graduate of the Port Jobs training, helped one client see that she could cut back expenses by reducing her monthly soda intake.
The first month she saved receipts of pop purchases, the total came to $44. "But she worked on that and last month it was $17. Little things like that make a big difference."
Having clients fill out a monthly budget report is the first step toward financial literacy for most Mazur-Hart works with, but the recession has pointed out everyone needs to be aware of how they spend their money, he said. "Perhaps that is why we've had a willingness to learn. It's a fragile job market. If a client is working, there is a chance that job might not last."
Many of those needing assistance from BMAC are "unbanked" and unfamiliar with financial planning, Covey pointed out. In this economy, nothing stretches as far as it used to. "They have to learn to do with less. Food stamps aren't buying as much, rent assistance isn't stretching as far, so we are having to give them some tools," she said.
Those tools aren't just for clients, either. "I'll tell you, at least with the folks that took the training, lots of them talked about going home and using this in their personal life," Covey added.
Sheila Hagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.