Saving: It Takes a Plan

I’ve been doing a little work with a group of foster kids ages 17-19. One of my goals has been to get them to see that their daily actions can influence their future. So at one of our last group meetings we talked about goal setting.

I had them write down their goals for one-, five-, ten-, and twently-years. That begs the question…what are you doing right now to reach those goals?

But this most recent meeting was about their daily spending habits. How you spend your money today can impact your dreams for the future. Before I even arrived, I asked the group leader to have the young adults keep track of their spending for two weeks. ALL of their spending. This is usually a pretty unpleasant task so I never know if anyone is going to follow through.

When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they had all done it…in one form or another. One girl arrived with an envelope filled with receipts. Oh happy day. The lesson is so much more meaningful if it relates directly to their lives.

I started by having them highlight things on their recording sheet that they didn’t really need to buy. It was very interesting to see that they were all pretty honest about their spending habits. One girl spends $25/week on cigarettes and she’s not willing to give up smoking. So I did a little calculation to show her that she spends about $1300/year just on cigarettes. Eyes lit up.

Another girl spends $2 on yogurt covered pretzels from the vending machine every time she goes to class. That’s $10/week. She admitted that she didn’t really need to buy a snack and she was considering moving down the snack chain and buying regular pretzels instead since they were cheaper. One of the other girls offered that it would be even cheaper to buy the pretzels in bulk and bring her own little baggie to snack on. Now that’s a savvy consumer!

But what really impressed me was that a lot of them were already taking steps to curb their spending. Some had reduced their thermostat setting, others cut back on their fast food intake, one had reduced her car insurance policy. And most of them were using a cheaper cell phone provider, MetroPCS, which made me smile because I had done some financial literacy work for them last year.

I’d like to think that their reduction in spending was a result of the work I have done with them, and maybe some of it was. But I think the real reason is simply out of necessity. Times are tough and looking for ways to save has become an on-going activity. It was interesting, though, that after taking a close look at their spending habits, they found additional ways to cut back.

Another of my goals for this class was to get them to start an emergency fund. A minimum of three months worth of expenses is recommended. And now that they had found little areas to save, it made coming up with the plan easier. By the end of class, they had each had a plan to help them establish this fund.

I am hopeful that this group is on their way to managing money in a way that will allow them to live in the future they each want. They’ve had a crummy start to life. They deserve a better future.

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