Columbus Saves program urges people to save and reduce debt
Columbus Saves program urges people to save and reduce debt
May 2, 2003
Saving is easy
He began playing the lottery every day in 1993 and by 2000 he had $26,000 in the bank.
He never purchased a ticket.
"I was playing the Bussey lottery," laughs Walter Bussey of Columbus. "I'd take a dollar each day and put it aside, a dollar I could have spent on the Georgia lottery. By the end of the year, I had $280. The next year, I put aside $2 a day."
With the money saved, he purchased his first $1,000 certificate of deposit. More were to follow. Interest and compound interest helped his account fatten like someone on a sundae diet.
"Like playing the lottery, saving has become a habit with me," says Bussey. "The more I do it, the more I like it."
He'd like Sandra Linares.
She has a wine bottle of which she's especially fond. It has no spirits in it but is a symbol of her newfound spirit of saving. It contains pennies and nickels. It sits in the den of her new house, something that six months ago she thought she'd never own.
"It was only a dream, something untouchable" she says, "until I learned how to handle my money."
A new program, Columbus Saves, is getting underway this month. It is part of a national campaign to encourage Americans to discover what Bussey and Linares already have -- it is better to build wealth than build debt.
A big need
The program, which is free, encourages people to save money and reduce debt. The local program is an offspring of America Saves, which is operating in several U.S. cities. Georgia, under the guidance of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, is the first to try it on a statewide level and Columbus is the city in the state to launch a campaign.
Locally, the program will likely include lunch-and-learn programs at the workplace, presentations at organizations, club and group meetings, and exhibits at banks and malls. All who join and become a saver will receive a quarterly financial newsletter, fact sheets on types of savings accounts and the opportunity to attend seminars and presentations on debt management.
According to 1999 statistics, 6,117 families in Muscogee County -- 12.8 percent of the population -- live in poverty. The Consumer Federation of America reports that 25 percent of the nation's households have net assets under $10,000 and are therefore "wealth-poor." This is not limited to low income households since many middle income and high income households don't save systematically and live month-to-month off their incomes.
In a 12-month period, ending June 30, 2002, Georgia ranked No. 4 in the nation for personal bankruptcy filings behind Utah, Nevada and Tennessee.
"I know a lot of the problems we see families have at the Pastoral Institute stems from money problems," says Delane Chappell of its Business Resource Center. "It's not always that there isn't enough money but how it's being spent. We have a culture where we spend more than we make."
Chappell has signed on to be a saver. "One goal," she says, "is to not use credit for any of my Christmas shopping."
Setting goals is what the Columbus Saves program is all about. A saver fills out a commitment form indicating a goal, how much they will save, how often they will save and where they will put their savings. The person then starts saving.
"We don't help plan their savings," says Joanne S. Cavis, senior public service associate here for the extension service. "We do provide wealth coaches who periodically check in with savers and offer emotional support. They're not financial consultants but are motivators. We will be able to help them get information with plenty of saving tips. There can be classes in the future. We can tell them the different savings options. We don't want people to stop shopping -- that wouldn't be good for the economy -- but there are smart ways to do it. We just want people to have money in reserve and help them reach their goal."
Cavis has set no goal for how many people she'd like to see in the program.
"We don't want to set a limit," she says. "We'd like to see everyone get involved."
Nancy Register, executive director of America Saves, thinks the program can influence even those who don't join. She sees saving becoming a "shared community value."
"It's important that through the campaign we just get the idea in people's minds that it is in their best interest as well as that of the country to save," she says.
A big possibility
Bussey, 75, knew it was in his best interest to keep more of his money. He knew there'd be sacrifice.
"I was a smoker for 63 years," says Bussey. "I figured one day that I was spending $30 a week on cigarettes. I quit. People said it'd be hard. It wasn't. I was a drinker. I was spending $200 a month on alcohol. That had to stop. People said it'd be hard. It wasn't. God helped. I paid off my house. I started saving $500 a month. I found good things don't cost you as much as the bad things do."
Now he teaches the importance of saving to children at Friendship Baptist Church, where he's an active member.
Linares, 40, has sacrificed to reach her goal but she hasn't missed anything.
"My problem," she says, "was that I'd go to the Wal-Mart with my grocery list but then see perhaps a blouse that I liked and I'd buy it. But I didn't need the blouse. I'd go to the mall and always came back with something I could easily do without. For a while, I quit going to the mall."
Linares, who works for Aflac, realized she was spending about $300 a month eating out. "I'd go to restaurants for lunch then the weekend would come and I'd say, 'Hey, it's Friday, let's go out.' All of this was going on the credit card and when the bills came I was paying the minimum. It's cheaper to cook."
Linares is an El Salvador native who has lived here since 1987. Her two sisters, Rosa and Esmeralda, live here as well. Living in an apartment, she had long wanted a house but didn't believe she could ever have the money.
She found her help through the HomeSave program conducted by the Columbus Housing Initative.
"They showed me how I could do it," she says. "They provided counseling. I went to workshops. They helped me plan my finances. They're still providing advice."
One thing she did was consolidate her credit card payments into one loan at less interest and started looking for bargain prices on everything. She began to collect spare change in the wine bottle and in a planter.
Aflac, in a special agreement with the Columbus Housing Initiative, gave her $1,000 toward a down payment once she had reached a certain point in the program and in a similar deal SunTrust matched her $500 saved with $1,500.
With that cash and her improved financial standing, she was able to get the down payment and loan approval for a three-bedroom house in north Columbus valued at $82,000. She spends her free time working in the yard and smiling.
"Even before I had the house," she says, "I had a photograph of it on my desk. No other pictures. I wanted this house and I got it because I learned to save."
Primary Press Contact
The Consumer Federation of America
Attn: America Saves Campaign
1620 Eye St NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20006
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