TAVARES — When the economy is weak and people are looking for work in a tough job market, they struggle to figure out how they’re going to pay their mounting pile of bills.
But even when times are good and unemployment is low, some people still have a difficult time managing their money.
“A lot of people don’t understand credit as well,” said Julie England. “There’s lots of things that people don’t know about money, and that’s what gets them into problems.”
It doesn’t matter, she added, whether the economy is weak or thriving.
“People managing their money has always been a problem,” England said. “When times are good, it’s easier to overlook the fact that you’re not spending your money wisely. It’s a constant problem. That’s why we’ve had programs in money management for years.”
England works as a Money Mentor volunteer coordinator for the Lake County Extension Office, which is looking for people interested in volunteering to provide free assistance to people who need help managing their household finances.
The volunteers are needed for a new program called Master Money Mentor. Volunteers who participate in this mentoring program get 20 hours of training, then agree to provide 25 hours of assistance to local residents. All volunteers will be required to complete the entire training program and pass a background check before becoming certified as a Master Money Mentor.
“This program is a success that’s been done in a number of different states,” England said. “Ohio State (University) started the original concept.”
Lake County Extension, she noted, has a number of education programs which include family and consumer sciences and money management.
“We don’t counsel people, we educate,” England said. “We’re not equipped to counsel.”
Instead, they recruit and train the volunteers who meet with people in the community to assist them.
“We’re looking for volunteers who are already working in a public field,” she said. “It might be somebody in public housing, or working in the field of probation, or who is already a community volunteer. We want to educate the people who are working with others, to give them a basic set of knowledge about money matters. The Money Master program is to train different people, but it must be somebody whose interest is in education, not promoting a product. We’re not going to promote any specific product.”
That’s true even for Bank of America, which is funding the program.
“It was started through a grant from Bank of America,” England said. “We don’t promote their products. However, they were kind enough to donate money to us.”
Training dates are scheduled for April 11, 13 and 14, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Lake County Extension Office, 1951 Woodlea Road, Tavares. The cost to participate as a Master Money Mentor is $50 per person, which includes training materials and lunches. Registration is required by April 6.
Social and faith-based service professionals, retirees and local community members are encouraged to participate.
Money Mentors will then be asked to assist families as they create spending and savings plans, help them analyze their credit behavior and limit their monthly debt, and push families to be proactive with lenders when problems arise.
“A lot of people have absolutely no clue where their money is going,” England said. “They don’t know why, they just don’t have any clue. This kind of financial counseling is targeted toward low and moderate income level people. It’s a growing program.”
The families being assisted will be given an opportunity to learn not just about credit, but also how to apply money management decisions to a marriage.
“They will talk about being in a relationship, too,” England said. “If there are two people trying to budget money together, and if they have a totally different view of money, we teach them they can work together to spend wisely.”
For more information about the program, or to sign up to become a Money Mentor volunteer, contact England at 352-343-4101, Ext. 2721, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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