Tool of the Month: Receipt Exercise & Spending Journal

If you only have one shot to introduce your client to a Financial Health tool then make sure the Receipt Exercise and Spending Journal are your go tos. This is the first step toward building a personal financial plan.
  1. First part is to keep all of their receipts for one week in the envelope. Remember: Get a receipt every time you allow money to leave your possession.
  2. After saving receipts, you should record it in the Spending Journal. The Spending Journal is a very concrete tool that can help illuminate patterns, but also prepares you for developing a financial process that is built on actual data. You will record what you bought, where you bought it, and how you paid for it (check, credit card, food stamps, etc.)
  3. It is important to record how you allow money to leave your possession as there may be patterns worth noting.
  4. The Receipt Exercise and Spending Journal is for your knowledge and the point is to have you become aware of exactly where and what you spent your money on.

Download The Spending Journal

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What to Know About the Equifax Data Breach: How you can protect your credit and help your clients protect theirs

As we’ve been out in the field delivering classes and working with people, we recognized that, while many people have heard of the Equifax data breach, few have really looked into the issue or done anything about it. Additionally, we have heard that many case managers have not been providing information to their clients about the severity of this situation and the potential negative impact it could have on their financial and economic lives. As we all know, credit is an important part of a person’s “access” and it is a part of our economic lives that we really should have a handle on, especially when it comes to data breaches, credit fraud, and identity theft.

Equifax is one of the three major credit reporting agencies. Earlier this summer, 145.5 million Americans had their sensitive personal data exposed to a data breach at Equifax, so if you have a credit report, there’s a good chance your personal data (social security and driver’s license number) is included in this breach. Bottom line: if your personal information has been accessed through this data breach then it could have a negative impact on your personal credit report and impact your financial life. That’s why it is critical that you and your clients check to see if your credit has been compromised by this data breach.

How do I check to see if my credit and/or a client’s credit is breached?

What do I do if my credit or a client’s credit was breached?

You may freeze your credit report and clients may decide to freeze their credit reports. Please visit Federal Trade Commission for more information about freezing your credit and how to do it. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs

Who are the credit bureaus?

There are three major credit bureaus that monitor your credit activity: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion.

  • Once per year you can receive a free credit report from each credit bureau at annualcreditreport.com this will allow you to:
    1. Use your credit report to look for fraudulent or incorrect information that could hurt your credit, and to decide what you want to do about any debt or unpaid bills you may have.
    2. You can learn a lot about credit reports, credit scores and what to do about them at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/credit-reports-and-scores/
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Lessons Learned from Personal Economics Program Pilot

For the last eight years, the Financial Health Institute has been teaching courses at nonprofits across the country. From this experience, our faculty noticed a recurring trend in the sector—massive staff turnover. We understand that personnel change and movement occurs in all sectors, however, there are additional consequences and effects this may have in a field that is largely dependent on interpersonal rapport and trust. People who are trying to recover from issues like substance abuse, plus gain and maintain housing and employment, among a litany of other challenges, may depend on the relationship they have built with their patient, experienced and knowledgeable human services staff to guide them through their recovery process. This is not to say that we expect or desire all things within organizations to remain static. We accept and understand that this is the “nature of the beast,” we just think we might have a partial solution.

We created the Personal Economics Program (PEP) to ensure that the customers of nonprofit agencies were provided consistent and in-depth education in the areas of Financial Health, Employment Sustainability, Benefits, Housing Exploration, and Health Literacy. Each course is 12 – 24 hours of content and 6-12 hours of directed assignments, so participants can practice what they have learned. This 12-week comprehensive program was piloted in November 2015 and has been even more successful than we could have imagined. As a result of the program’s success, we have been asked to continue to provide the course at the original pilot location and at two more organizations. We truly believe that the curricula taught in this program enable customers to gain essential knowledge that will allow them to successfully navigate their lives and begin to make essential behavioral changes.

In light of the completion of the pilot PEP, I recently interviewed Joanne McLain, PhD, one of the instructors of the program and co-creator of the curricula.

  1. What do you think are the most valuable lessons that participants learn from PEP?

“I think the most valuable lesson that participants gain from PEP is a sense that they can do things to make a real difference in their own lives. They also develop valuable skills that will transfer to other areas in their lives, like improved attention, critical thinking, goal-planning and a future focus.”

  1. What gap do you think PEP fills in the human services system?

“It can be hard for human/social service programs to sustain education over an extended time like this. Instead of one or two sessions, PEP participants attend classes four times per week for three months. This allows us to dive more deeply into complex and difficult topics and take longer to discuss important issues. It also helps in the development of skills for discourse and critical thinking. In my experience, our focus on the combination of financial health, employment sustainability, health literacy and benefits exploration is unique in the field. Participants have expressed sincere appreciation for the knowledge they are gaining.”

  1. In your experience, what is the largest educational need of the participants in the classroom?

“The ability to sustain focus over time and to mentally grapple with complex concepts are skills that can be difficult to develop when you are living within the reality of poverty and substance abuse. As a result, all other knowledge and information becomes hard to process.”

  1. What has been the largest lesson you have learned as a PEP instructor?

“How incredibly varied the participants’ lives and perspectives are and how gracious most of them are, despite the difficulties that come with running a pilot program.”

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Credit Scores Predict Relationship Success

We’re all familiar with the situation. You have a friend who you love to spend time with. The problem is their version of “spending time,” involves spending money and lots of it. You enjoy the night out, but the subsequent financial stress you experience is a recurring issue at the core of your friendship. Meanwhile, you have another friend whose idea of having fun together is more like yours—taking a hike for free, cooking dinner at home, etc. You get the drift. The bottom line is that money—and your relationship with it—can frequently make or break friendships, and as it turns out—romantic relationships.

New research from the U.S. Federal Reserve examined millions of credit scores and determined that couples with healthy credit scores, have a healthier coupling. In fact, researchers posit that “credit scores reveal general trustworthiness” of relationship partners—an integral quality of a lasting relationship. Even more interesting is that the researchers found that people tend to match up with those who have similar credit scores, by a mere 69 point difference.

So what does this mean for the dating world, including dating websites? It could mean that the inclusion of details about credit scores might be useful to truly find a long-term match. However, for people who have had their credit scores ruined by fraud, divorce or other forces outside their control, this may seem an unfair representation of their true character or potential. Either way, this new research concretizes something that we have all experienced—our relationship with money and our financial health is in many ways related to the people we choose to surround ourselves with, for better or for worse.

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