It's graduation night at the House of Hope, a homeless shelter in Lowell, Mass.
A small group of low-income women sit with their volunteer coaches, celebrating the completion of Budget Buddies — an unusual financial program that might just change their lives. Over the past 6 months, the women have learned core money-management skills, designed to make them economically self-sufficient and prevent them from sliding back into poverty. They've learned the basics of budgeting, banking and credit. And, perhaps most importantly, they've been given a rare boost in confidence.
"You have done something that a lot of people never do — never make a budget, never really put money away for savings, never track their expenses to see how much they are spending," Anita Saville, executive director of Budget Buddies, tells the women, leading a round of applause. "You are so far ahead of most of the people in this country."
Saville and Kathy Brough founded Budget Buddies in 2010, after meeting a few years earlier while volunteering on former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's campaign. They quickly realized that they shared an interest in helping homeless women. Saville, a freelance financial writer and former editor for Fidelity Investments, often did advocacy work for women's rights. Brough worked in finance and operations for small businesses, and had volunteered for over two decades at an adult homeless shelter, the Lowell Transitional Living Center.
Together, they came up with a unique (and unfortunately rare) program to promote women's financial literacy: a series of 12 instructional workshops, combined with one-to-one coaching, over a sustained period of 6 months.
"A lot of women end up in poverty for a variety of reasons," Saville says. "Their families have been living in poverty for years and years. They have little financial education. Then you couple that with…poor role models, lots of personal financial challenges, and women are just overwhelmed."
From her many years working with the homeless, Brough knew that case managers at agencies and shelters have little time or resources to teach financial basics. "They have like 40 clients each," she says. "They can't possibly talk about money."