Lynn Gary of Port Acres felt her eyes opening as she learned how much money was slipping through her fingers every month.
Trips to the grocery store. Trips to the dollar store. Trips here, there. Nothing much out of the ordinary. No big-ticket items like a car or refrigerator. Just stuff.
Because she started writing down every transaction, every time money in any denomination left her hand, she saw how it added up. And up. And it left her scrambling sometimes as she had more month left than money.
Gary, 59, and her husband, Larry, signed up for the Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas “Fundamentals of Good Credit” course.
It was a requirement for them to qualify for a mortgage to get into a Habitat for Humanity home, which will begin construction in mid-March.
“I kept a worksheet, and I realized I could save at least $200 a month at the grocery store. That was truly eye-opening. Once you see it in black and white, you see how you spend money,” she said.
A simple thing like planning shopping trips, keeping to a list and not returning for more and more helps to sew up the hole in the pocket through which scads of dollars fall, she said.
Gary said the course offered her plenty of great information, such as how to get one’s credit reports for free – without calling the toll-free numbers advertised on television – and how to read and understand them, and why they’re important.
If one of three credit reports contains inaccurate information – perhaps for something like a missed payment that wasn’t missed – it could affect your ability to qualify for loans or to keep your interest payments lower.
She said she learned to avoid cash-advance businesses because of the high interest rates they charge, and because a borrower might be surrendering their bank account numbers that the business might tap for repayment.
In cases where there aren’t sufficient funds, the bank might cover the overdraft and charge the bank customer the extra fees to cover it, she said. All of a sudden, the cash advance that might have seemed convenient has become expensive, she said.
Michelle Brown, 40, a service coordinator at the Beaumont Housing Authority, took the Fundamentals of Good Credit course last June.
She hopes to buy a house and might be able to arrange for it this June.
“It was wonderful,” she said of the course. “It helped me understand a lot.”
Through the course, she learned to keep her receipts and to think about her purchases.
“I was buying a lot of junk food for my kids and there were things that just sat in my cabinet and were spoiling,” she said. “I was buying stuff for the house I really didn’t need.”
Because of the course, she said she was able to identify at least $100 a month that she could otherwise save and put into her Individual Development Account through the housing authority. That will help her to qualify for matching funds for a down payment on a home.
Hurricane Ike, as it did with most people, knocked her off budget but she is slowly recovering.
The difference is she knows what to look for in her spending and how to keep it under control.
“I always make sure I pay my bills on time. It pays off and now I have a good credit score,” she said.
Stephanie Lundgreen, Asset Building Case Management coordinator for Catholic Charities, said the agency is interested in helping people lift themselves out of poverty.
She said more than 100 people signed up for last fall’s class, but Hurricane Ike disrupted it. Still, more than 60 eventually completed it.
“We work with families and look at all the reasons why they’re not managing very well,” she said. “There could be a variety of reasons, and they hit a point where they want to make things better.”
She said the course offers people instruction on basic budgeting, on how to create a household plan, how to spot wasteful habits.
The course also offers homebuyers’ education and does case management for Habitat for Humanity homebuying candidates.
“We have high expectations for people,” she said. “We do follow-through with them. We stick with them about a year to ensure they’re successful. We want to see more folks get out of poverty.”