Class helps local folks learn the financial ropes

<I>The Eagle/Angel Carpenter</I><BR>Mark Lesniak of Prairie City and Maxine Day of John Day share smart ways to save money with a financial literacy class Feb. 19 at Families First Parent Resource Center.

JOHN DAY - Eager to learn tips to make their dollars stretch, a group of eight adult students joined Mark Lesniak and Maxine Day at the Families First Parent Resource Center for a recent class, "Financial Literacy."

They covered the basics: setting up a budget, saving money, reducing bills and/or credit payments and raising money-smart children.

One of Lesniak's responsibilities as director of the Grant County Center for the Umatilla/Morrow Head Start is conducting family needs assessments. In those meetings with preschool parents, he discovered a need for a class on finances.

"We wanted to offer families ways to improve their financial situation," said Lesniak who taught the class using a manual provided by Head Start.

Day said the economic times called for the class.

She works as the county's OSU Extension office faculty and staff chair.

We wanted to "give them ways to budget their money to make it go further," she said.

The class was shown how to fill out a budget sheet with fixed expenses such as rent or mortgage and car payment; flexible monthly expenses like groceries, electricity and gasoline; and periodic expenses like property taxes and auto insurance.

Having a system in place saves "time, money and prevents problems" a hand out read.

Day recommended having an expandable file folder, keeping each bill in a separate slot and setting aside money each month for periodic expenses.

For those who have trouble sticking to their budget, Day suggested using cash for groceries, separating the money out into envelopes for each week of the month.

She also suggested asking this question before each nonessential purchase, "How bad do I need it?"

Some students mentioned their mistake of wasting money by going to the store multiple times a day.

Day said planning meals on a monthly calendar can help prevent unnecessary spending. She also suggested making a hobby out of hunting for good grocery deals and coupon clipping.

Day and Lesniak also stressed the importance of saving a little money each month for anything from a special trip to life's surprises.

Their advice for those unable to pay all their bills was to prioritize.

Their lesson suggested prioritizing in this order:

? Start with food and medical essentials, not including meals out.

? Next, pay rent or mortgage and critical utilities, such as electric and water bills.

? Then pay essential insurance premiums - medical insurance and auto liability insurance, etc.

? Then pay secured debts (such as a car loan) so it won't be repossessed. If you have a good payment history, ask the lender if you can skip a month or tack a month onto the end of the loan.

? The last priority is unsecured debt (credit cares, medical bills, etc.). Don't let debt collectors scare you into a bad decision - just make a plan to send them some small payment each month, and do not give them your bank account number or any post-dated checks.

? Stop making any new debt - no credit cards or loans.

If credit cards are a problem, Day suggests that once one card is paid off, using the money that would have gone to that card toward another.

Once they're paid off, "cut them up," she said, then when all credit cards are paid off consider having one for emergencies.

Passing on good financial habits to children was another subject touched on by Lesniak and Day: teaching them to earn money, set goals, save money and enjoy life without spending.

Once children are old enough to cook, Day said they should be assigned to cook once a month.

This was a task her parents gave their children.

When it was her brother's turn, "I knew it would be tomato soup and grilled cheese," she said.

The financial literacy class will meet again in April to check their progress.

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