Financial counselor learned about bad debt the hard way
Financial counselor learned about bad debt the hard way
May 7, 2003
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
by Tannette Johnson-Elie
Jenell Hackley couldn't save a dime if her life depended on it.
"I partied. I bought clothes," says Hackley, of Milwaukee. "I squandered my money my whole life. I was trying to live the way I wanted to live on a shoestring budget."
It really hit home about two years ago, when Hackley realized that she was close to turning 50 with nothing in the bank and zero saved toward retirement. But what she did have was a mountain of debt on 15 different credit cards. Talk about a plan for financial disaster.
"I didn't have a dime to my name, no 401(k) or nothing, and yet, I've worked since I was 14," says Hackley, the divorced mother of a 12-year-old daughter.
Remarkably, Hackley makes her living teaching the essentials of finance and money management to low-income minority women as a financial literacy counselor for the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corp, a non-profit organization headquartered at 2745 N. King Drive.
One day, after one of Hackley's classes, a woman came up to her and said, "I bet you're rich." It was a telling moment for Hackley.
"I felt as low as an ant," Hackley recalled. "Here I was teaching this class, and my finances were out of control. I finally woke up and said, 'I'm going to do something about this.' "
In October 2001, she joined a new pilot-program that WBIC was spearheading called Milwaukee Saves. The program encourages people to set realistic savings goals and provides them with help to stick with them.
Whatever an individual's goal might be - whether it's to pay off high-interest debt or save for a home - the program offers help in reaching it. It also includes free counseling from volunteer wealth-building coaches and access to specially designed savings accounts at participating banks that can be opened with a minimum balance of $25.
Since becoming a Milwaukee Saves participant, Hackley has cut such unnecessary expenditures as eating out and going to movies, and she has paid down her credit cards substantially. More importantly, Hackley now saves $300 a month and has saved $2,300 so far.
Thalia Mendez, director of business education initiatives for WBIC, says the non-profit women's business group was aware of Hackley's situation and considers her the ideal person to teach economic literacy classes.
"What can be more personal than to hear someone say 'Look, I didn't always use what I'm teaching,' " Mendez says. "She's putting what she preaches into practice."
Hackley will share her story at the fourth annual The Money Conference on Saturday, during which Milwaukee Saves will be introduced to the public.
Sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions and a host of other local organizations, the conference will be from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Italian Community Center, 631 E. Chicago St., Milwaukee.
Basic financial topics to be covered include understanding credit, how to start and manage an investment club, how to avoid predatory lenders and increasing your net worth through home ownership.
Milwaukee Saves is modeled after America Saves, a national savings campaign that was launched by the Consumer Federation of America in 2001.
Nationally, about 9,000 people have joined America Saves through local programs or through the national America Saves Web site - www.americasaves.org. Membership is free.
There even is a Black America Saves, which was launched by America Saves in partnership with BET.com (Black Entertainment Television), although I'm not so sure that we need a special financial literacy campaign aimed at blacks. Financial responsibility is a universal message.
Locally, Milwaukee Saves has signed on 100 savers and more than 100 sponsoring organizations, including non-profits, churches, community groups and employers, since the pilot program began in 2001.
In a survey by the Massachusetts-based MassMutual Financial Group, 81% of baby boomers reported that basic necessities such as groceries and gasoline affected their ability to save; 53% said they were paying off credit card debt, and 70% said they will rely on Social Security to fund their retirement.
"There's an incredible amount of frustration that we in this country have set up a cycle of debt for ourselves, which is to our detriment," says George Barany, director of financial education for the Consumer Federation of America, which manages America Saves.
Jacquelyn Schober, 32, a single mother of a 5-year-old son, has struggled financially, largely because of mounting medical bills from her son's frequent hospitalizations because he has seizures.
"My goal is to buy a house and to put money away for my son's education," Schober says. "Medical bills can really put a strain on your finances."
Now, Schober is closer to reaching her goals thanks to Milwaukee Saves. Since joining the initiative six months ago, she has saved an average of $200 a month and has worked out a payment plan for her medical bills.
Anything that can turn this country from a nation of spenders to a nation of savers is laudable.
We all will sleep a lot better at night if we're not worried about facing tomorrow's bills.
Tickets for The Money Conference cost $10 for adults and $5 for youth over age 6. For more information, contact the Department of Financial Institutions at (608) 267-1713 or www.wdfi.org.
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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