Real money, real problems

Published 10:13 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2011

For teenagers looking to move out of their own, a balanced budget isn’t always in the forefront of their minds. But United Way of South Hampton Roads is working to change that mindset.

“Real Money: What’s Your Plan?” offers lessons in financial responsibility to teens who are trying to gain financial independence but are most at risk to be dependent on public resources.

The program is an initiative by LiveSmart, a partnership comprising various organizations looking to encourage financial literacy. It is being funded by a grant from the Foundation for Financial Planning.

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The group held its first meetings this month, and it will continue to meet twice a month until December.

Lori Irwin, director of financial stability for United Way, said the program is designed to help teens living in foster homes or in public housing.

“We want them to empower them to not be dependent on debt or charity, but to be their own resource,” she said.

Both groups of teens face different hurdles to overcome in their journey to financial stability.

Teenagers who have lived in foster care, Irwin said, tend to have abandonment issues and trouble with their self esteem, which can hinder their financial independence.

Also, she added, they usually don’t have people to rely on if they have trouble with money.

“When they declare independence, they don’t have a safety net that other teens have,” Irwin said.

In contrast, teens living in public housing face issues with financial stability because of their history of poverty.

Irwin said they are at a disadvantage because their families have relied on public assistance.

“They have to break that mindset,” she said.

In addition to risk factors that they can’t control, Irwin said, these teens face another obstacle in the current economy.

“We’re looking at an economy that cannot support the benefit structure of the past,” she said.

She said there might not be resources, such as shelters, for these teens to use when they are adults, and the Real Money program aims to help them form a new vision for their lives.

At the meetings, the teens learn about different financial topics, such as living on a limited budget and planning for the unexpected.

Also, each teen is assigned a volunteer mentor to help them develop financial plans for themselves.

Irwin said it is beneficial to teach the teens at this age because they have not formed bad financial habits but are looking to become more independent.

“We are catching teens at a time when they are developing,” she said.

Irwin said the program is currently being offered to Virginia Beach and Norfolk teens, but she hopes to host a session in Portsmouth or Suffolk.

She said everyone can benefit from learning financial responsibility, because financial problems can plague people for their entire lives.

“Everyone needs financial literacy,” Irwin said. “And it begins when we start talking, and it ends when we take our last breath.”

For more information on the program, contact United Way of South Hampton Roads at 853.8500.