April is National Financial Capability Month, highlighting the importance of financial education in supporting American families as they strive for prosperity and the resilience to weather unexpected setbacks.
In his official proclamation on March 31, President Biden emphasized that this year’s Financial Capability Month is especially critical given “the financial impact of COVID-19 and the deep-rooted inequities in our society that have greatly limited the economic prosperity of too many Americans.”
At Crisis Assistance Ministry, the effects of those ingrained barriers to financial security are unmistakable. Every day, hardworking men and women seek assistance with the basics — rent, utilities, clothing, and household essentials – when their household budgets are stretched too far by rising costs for housing, food, medicine, transportation, and childcare.
The ability to provide for the comfort, security, and prosperity of one’s own family is a universal desire shared by all Americans. While customers served at Crisis Assistance Ministry may find themselves in need of a lifeline in times of financial stress, they strive for the same goals everyone does — the freedom and peace of mind that come with financial success.
Through its Economic Mobility Program, Crisis Assistance Ministry helps customers uncover pathways to economic opportunities and financial stability. Customers enrolled in this program work one-on-one with specially trained caseworkers for an average of three months, identifying specific barriers to financial security and setting personal goals for a brighter future.
The Economic Mobility Program casework team utilizes a robust curriculum developed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a federal agency dedicated to supporting and protecting consumers as they make informed financial decisions. The CFPB curriculum, “Your Money, Your Goals,” provides practical steps families can follow to take control of their finances. Examples of elements covered include setting SMART goals, budgeting, managing debt, building a good credit score, planning for significant life events, and creating savings.
“This opens up so many avenues,” says Tiffany Bost, director of the Economic Mobility Program. She points out that many customers come into the program thinking financial education is only for wealthy people. However, they quickly learn that everyone can benefit from tips and pointers for building a solid fiscal foundation.
One of the fundamental habits the Economic Mobility team encourages all program participants to develop is to contribute consistently to a savings account. Caseworkers help participants identify creative ways to find small amounts of money that can transform into significant resources over time. Even five dollars a week squeezed from the grocery bill and stashed away in savings builds assets and, just as importantly, self-confidence.
While many people do not initially think it is possible to save on a lower income, Tiffany says that once participants realize they can, “it shifts their relationship to money.” She remembers one participant, amazed at the power of saving, who told her, “My money is showing me that I can actually live my life instead of just living to get money.”
Empowering people to take control of their financial lives and build a solid foundation for a more prosperous future is the goal of both the Economic Mobility Program and National Financial Capability Month. April highlights the importance of financial literacy, but this vital work is ongoing throughout the year at Crisis Assistance Ministry.