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A realistic budget helps single mom catch up with expenses

“Valerie’s” mentors helped her create a budget so she could see how much she could actually afford to spend.

Following a realistic budget helped this single mom
Stock photo from Pexels

For several years before she entered the FamilyForward program, single mom “Valerie” was not earning enough to pay all her living expenses. When faced with an emergency car repair and no money in her savings account, Valerie took out a payday loan to pay the mechanic so she could continue to get to work. Like many families who apply to FamilyForward, Valerie just could not catch up. She was working full time but still struggled to keep up with her current bills, let alone pay down debt or put any money into savings.

The first thing Valerie’s volunteer mentors did was help her write up a schedule of due dates for monthly bills. Following this schedule, Valerie was able to plan which bills to pay with her first paycheck of the month and which to pay with her second paycheck. Since FamilyForward was paying a portion of her rent, the beginning of the month became less expensive for Valerie. She used some of those “extra” dollars to pay off her payday loan early, which saved her money in the long run.

Developing a realistic budget was key

The next project to tackle was a realistic monthly household budget. The volunteer mentors asked Valerie to track her weekly spending. How much are you spending on laundry? How much are you spending on groceries? Later in the program, Valerie confessed to her mentors, “before this program, I didn’t really know where my money was going.”

As she compiled all these numbers, week after week, the mentors helped Valerie create a budget so she could see how much she could actually afford to spend. “Savings” was one of the line items in the monthly budget, so Valerie got into the habit of contributing to her emergency fund, even though it was only a modest amount each month.

Looking at all these numbers on a spreadsheet showed Valerie what she had known all along — she was not earning enough. She applied for many new jobs, and it took a while to find the right fit with her childcare constraints. But by the end of her time in our two-year program, Valerie was earning $4 more per hour than at her previous job, at the beginning of the program. Additionally, she had $1,400 in her savings account, and her credit score increased by 65 points.

Caring support was critical

Valerie responded well to the suggestions of her mentors because, over the course of the program, they developed a respectful, trusting relationship. As they got to know each other better, Valerie’s mentors helped her talk through other aspects of her life that also contributed to her financial stability, including summer childcare arrangements, navigating tricky family dynamics, and learning how to advocate for herself at work. Valerie’s mentors offered a consistent voice of reason, which is something no one else in her life could provide.

Like so many FamilyForward families, Valerie needed temporary rent assistance to stay afloat and make a dent in her debt. But the real value of our program comes from mentoring — two dedicated volunteers who came to Valerie’s apartment every week to help her figure out a plan — and stick to it! At her final review meeting, Valerie was asked what the most valuable part of our program was. She answered, “accountability and follow-up.” This answer highlights what makes FamilyForward such a unique program: mentors provide ongoing guidance and support, and families are accountable for their success in the program.


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