“I need help, I’m in a lot of trouble.” The voice on the other end of the phone line was that of Maria, a wife and mother, who along with her husband is coping with a blended family and significant financial struggles. The couple had been married just a year and their financial health was reeling out of control. In desperation, Maria called Teri Horner, a financial counselor with FISC, the Financial Information and Service Center, a program of Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin. The FISC program is funded in part by the Oshkosh Area United Way.
When Maria and David entered the program, they were deep in debt. They applied to take part in the Financial Makeover Challenge which FISC does every year. They were selected, and along with four other families or couples participated in the challenge. They worked one on one with FISC counselor Horner on budgeting, paying off debt, and setting financial goals for both the short and long term and planning for the future.
Maria and David have come a long way and were very innovative in finding ways to trim their budget and work towards paying down their debt. For example, as a family, they all agreed to take shorter showers, which saved on their utility bill by $90 per month. Their children wrote down on a white board housed in the kitchen what each could do to help reduce bills. They recycle plastic lunch bags from their lunches and the children get a nickel in their own savings jar for every bag returned. Two of the older children started paying for their activities from their own paychecks, along with savings from recycled cans they cashed in. The entire family participated in meal planning, and menus created were using coupons and sales items at the market. The family members took turn cooking as well. Their entire lifestyle changed. Everyone was eating healthier with home cooked meals, and they all learned the difference between a want and a need.
Horner works with clients to organize their spending into three categories; fixed, periodic and variable and to prioritize their obligations with an emphasis on home/shelter, utilities and
medical. She will use visualization such as getting your ducks in a row (she will literally get toy ducks and display them) and also uses an envelope system for bills and savings to coach clients about how to manage their money.
In the beginning of the process, Maria’s and David’s attitudes were not necessarily positive. Now they are realizing the difference they are making in their family as well as their debt. They saw the accomplishments they were making, and Teri could see the burden being lifted from their shoulders. Horner commented, “It showed in their faces, their voices and body language as well as their attitude. They became excited, motivated and closer as a family. They have taken control of their lives, and even if they have a few set-backs, I believe they will never lose control again.”
Today, Maria and David reduced their debt by $8,776 and have savings in excess of $1,500. Helping individuals and families achieve financial stability is a primary goal for the United Way, and the success experienced by Maria and David is the Difference You Make when you donate to the Oshkosh Area United Way.