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Linda GeistWriterUniversity of Missouri ExtensionPhone: 573-882-9185Email: GeistLi@missouri.edu
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013
Vivian Mason, 573-642-0755
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Tamara Pitts was sitting pretty. She had bought her first home after graduating college and working the same job for five years.
Then two months later, she learned that her job as a traffic engineer was in jeopardy when her employer began downsizing its workforce. “It was like going from cloud nine to cloud two,” she said.
Her employer contracted with University of Missouri Extension and the Missouri Career Center to offer a financial management program called “Take Control of Your Finances” to employees who were being downsized.
MU Extension has declared February “Missouri Saves Month” as part of Missouri Saves, ongoing program to help individuals and families save and build wealth. Missouri Saves is a part of the national America Saves campaign, which will observe America Saves Week, Feb. 25-March 2.
Although she didn’t lose her job, Pitts has continued with the program for the past 2 ½ years. She has worked with MU Extension family financial education specialist Vivian Mason to systematically reduce debt and save money.
Like many others, Pitts found the hardest part of the program was opening up to someone about her financial situation. “It was very humbling,” she said.
Mason helped her through a step-by-step process to plan a better financial lifestyle. She challenges program participants to keep a daily written record of everything spent for a month. She said many of her clients have “aha!” moments when they realize how much they spend on daily routines such as a cup of coffee or lunch. Participants use this information along with a list of monthly expenses to help develop of saving plan using the MU Extension “Living for Less” guide (available for free download at www.extension.missouri.edu/GH3600).
Mason herself faced being laid off at her job two years earlier, so her advice was personal as well as professional. She told Pitts not to panic, a common reaction, and to talk to her family immediately. Talk with all family members, including children, so that everyone is aware of the changes and can help control spending.
Mason encourages people to seek resources and referral information at their local MU Extension office and visit the community action agency in their area to learn about resources available through state agencies and county programs. But most importantly, seek out the help of family and friends.
Set priorities to pay bills that remain the same despite a reduced income, Mason said. Expenses related to housing, child support, insurance and “anything you need to keep a roof over your head or your wheels on the road” must be paid before anything else, she said.
It is also important to contact creditors. “Make that first contact. Don’t let them come after you,” she said. This will allow you to develop a working relationship. And put your credit cards away unless you can pay the balance off at the end of each month. Through the program, Mason offers tips on how to negotiate lower interest rates and avoid predatory lenders.
Mason reminds program participants that the road to financial success is not a short one. “It’s just like losing weight. It didn’t happen overnight,” she said.
Pitts said Mason’s advice and the resources of MU Extension helped her weather one of the worst periods of her life. “This program is for everybody,” she said. She recommends it for those who are jobless or those with a steady income.
“MU Extension has helped with the financial part of my life tremendously,” Pitts said. “I am well established in my finances. Two years ago these were tears of sadness, and now they are tears of happiness.”
For more information about Missouri Saves Month, go to www.missourifamilies.org/mosaves.
For information about MU Extension financial management programs in your area, contact your local MU Extension center or go to www.extension.missouri.edu.
A number of financial management resources, including articles, worksheets, checklists and recordings of presentations by MU Extension specialists, are available at www.extension.missouri.edu/callaway/financialed.aspx.
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