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When you're living below the poverty line, normal life hardships and expenses can hit extra hard. 

Photo by Martina TR, Used with a Creative Commons license

Once a month, we teach a financial literacy class to the artisans in our programs. We've been talking about budgeting, savings accounts, loans, etc. Our class this past week was one I approached with a bit of trepidation. The topic was dealing with financial hardships, when expenses are more than income. 

Why was this particular class hard to teach? Mostly because I know the financial situations of many of our ladies and that unfortunately, all that comes in each month is often drained by the end of the month, with almost nothing left over. In just our small group, husbands have lost jobs or are having their hours cut back, healthcare costs are mounting, and the apartment complexes in which several live are raising rent in response to the gentrification of the neighborhood. I was talking about a reality they face, not just a theoretical situation.

First off in the lesson, we talked about prioritizing expenses: pay what's absolutely necessary first, then worry about the rest.  Our students aren't necessarily familiar with resources in Charlotte, such as Crisis Assistance and various food banks, so we discussed those a bit. I need to give them a list of all that's available.

Second, we talked about dealing with loans, particularly car loans. How many Americans - with good jobs - get suckered into buying a car just a bit high for their budget by a persuasive salesman. Now how do you think immigrants, with very little English and minimal understanding of how car loans work, deal with high pressure sales tactics? They buy cars that are just too expensive and are then saddled with onerous loan payments. We encouraged them that it's better to sell the car and pay off the loan than to let the bank foreclose. Plus, it's WAY better to buy a car with cash if at all possible.

Finally, we talked about increasing income. The MoneySmarts curriculum that we use as a foundation for our classes recommended getting A) More education; and B) A second job. Good advice, but hard for our ladies to apply.  Most of our ladies have little children, few childcare options and no extra transportation. Their husbands already are gone most of the day because of crazy long commutes, so how are these ladies going to get a second job? And until they get their English levels up, it's hard to find skills education classes that will work with their limited vocabulary. So increasing income is a struggle, to say the least. 

I love teaching these financial education classes. I'm thankful to walk alongside these families as they work extremely hard to make ends meet. But we need more mentors, more skills training, more affordable housing options, more safety nets for immigrants. Charlotte's got a lot of awesome stuff going on. How can we leverage that together to meet the needs of those on the fringes, those who don't know how to navigate the system, those who long to work & learn but can't find opportunity? 

Thoughts? We welcome your feedback and ideas. Just as I encouraged my students, learning is the key to success. This holds true for us, just as much as them. To learn more and to keep up with the conversation, follow us on Twitter and Instagram. You can also subscribe to our newsletter - promise we won't spam you!

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