Make your wages work for you
Program teaches people how to budget, save and plan to achieve life goals
By Bradley Roberts
You are a small business owner who needs help.
The first two years have been hard, but you have made it over the hump. You are starting to pick up steam and generate interest in your community. You have supply costs and rent and other bills to pay — these aren’t unforeseen circumstances. You have planned for this. These are needs —these are operating costs— but you have wants, too.
You have items on your wish list, but despite your best attempts, at the end of the month after catching up on bills, you can’t seem to afford those items. You don’t know if you will ever be able to.
United Way of Greater Atlanta has a program to help you.
A tenet of the Making Wages Work program, which has been working in some capacity for around two decades, according to Economy Jackson, associate director of Income for United Way, is that you can cross off this wish list with a few well-planned financial decisions.
Making Wages Work is a program that services people in the Greater Atlanta area who are low-to-moderate income, working individuals. This is a financial education and financial coaching program, Jackson says.
Those who participate in this program have to complete between six and 12 sessions of financial literacy and six to 12 sessions of financial coaching. The financial coaches are volunteers who meet with these people on a monthly basis to assist them with meeting goals they have set.
The program helps people with three sets of goals in mind: They help people wishing to save money to help with school costs, people with emergency savings and small business owners who are looking to grow their business.
Around six years ago, United Way created the umbrella program Making Wages Work for financial institutions to provide one-on-one coaching to coordinate financial education.
United Way has provided incentives for completion of the programs, Jackson says.
“We don’t set goals for the individuals,” Jackson said. “They set goals and the financial coaches focus on that. For the education and microenterprise portion, that individual has 12 months to save $1,000 and we do a 3-to-1 match. That will help [businesses] purchase items for their business. The education, we match their $1,000 and the $3,000 we give them goes directly to their school. Sometimes that can be tuition, sometimes the books, and in certain cases a laptop or something that can be purchased from the school.”
Kathy Stratton participated in the 2017-18 Microenterprise IDA with the goals of saving money, financial literacy and coaching. Stratton was driven by vested interest in growth and achievements for her real estate business.
Stratton got a free credit report and used this resource as a way to correct previous credit issues.
“The financial education classes impacted my life because when I developed the balance sheet I was able to see my assets and liabilities,” Stratton said.
Stratton reconciled her bank statements and determined what actions to take to meet her goals.
“I have doubled my savings by not allowing others to expect me to bail them out and be left with nothing for my emergencies,” she said. She used the money to invest in real estate fees, supplies and equipment.
For those who are looking to build up their emergency savings, Jackson said United Way provides a 1-to-1 match of $500.
Jackson recalled one participant in the program who had begun saving toward a certain goal, but then those plans had been upended because the woman’s mother had gotten sick. However, because of the program, she and her children went to visit her mother before she passed away.
“Those are the types of things that people don’t think about,” Jackson said. “They save money for a goal, and then they have an emergency and realize how much having those savings helps.”
There are about 70 financial coaches currently in the program, but Jackson says about 700 coaches have been trained in just the past six years.
“We provide training to volunteers, we teach them how to be coaches and we train them in financial literacy, as well,” Jackson said. “We match them up with the client, and they [trainers] have to stay on for a year, but in some cases, they stay on for longer.”
Jackson said many clients they work with have never created a budget before. The program helps people better plan their finances, plan for the future and realize how reach to achieve their goals.
“We renamed it in 2014-15 to Making Wages Work because while we can’t increase people’s wages, we can help them make their wages work for them,” Jackson said. “They can become more financially self-sufficient.”
For more information on Making Wages Work, click here.