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TEACHABLE MOMENT: Community Partnership of the Ozarks’ Denise Johnson heads up the organization’s Making Sense of Money Basic Budgeting Series program.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
TEACHABLE MOMENT: Community Partnership of the Ozarks’ Denise Johnson heads up the organization’s Making Sense of Money Basic Budgeting Series program.

Money Matters: Financial literacy is central focus of CPO program

Posted online

A four-week budgeting class from the Community Partnership of the Ozarks seeks to strengthen participants’ money-saving acumen – $100 at a time.

Making Sense of Money Basic Budgeting Series is part of CPO’s initiative to address financial literacy throughout Springfield. Nearly 20 financial institutions have teamed up with the organization to support the program.

“It’s been a real win-win relationship between the two groups,” said Christi Gibson, community development and relations manager with Great Southern Bank.

In addition to helping participants learn to better save money, the program addresses financial goal setting, needs versus wants and money beliefs. At the end of the course, each student is asked to set a short-term savings goal of up to $100, said program lead Denise Johnson, director of financial security with CPO.

“We want to build a habit of saving,” she said, adding a partnering bank will match up to $100 if the goal is met between three to six months. “Also, we want to obviously leverage and assist them in building that emergency fund with those matching funds.”

Reducing poverty
Part of Johnson’s desire with the financial literacy program is to reach those at or below the poverty level.

According to the 2019 Community Focus Report, which provides a snapshot of strengths and weaknesses in Springfield and Greene County, the city’s poverty rate is 25.7%.

Francine Pratt, director of Prosper Springfield, an initiative created in 2017 in response to the Impacting Poverty Commission Report, said her goal is to reduce the poverty rate by 5 percentage points by 2025. CPO, along with United Way of the Ozarks, is a backbone agency of Prosper Springfield.

Pratt’s efforts were bolstered earlier this year by a $25,000 donation from Simmons Bank toward increasing financial literacy. Pratt said the money helps fund the operational work of Prosper Springfield for people in low- to moderate-income levels.

The median household income in Springfield for 2017 was $34,775, well below the U.S. median of $62,626 that same year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Part of being able to reduce poverty is to help people learn how to better manage what money they do have,” she said, pointing to the work of the Making Sense of Money program. “What they’re doing is getting additional education beyond high school that will help move them toward either a better paying job or better education.”

The program, started in 2007, offers public courses six times a year, with class sizes between 12 and 18 people, Johnson said. Pathways United Methodist Church and Broadway United Methodist Church have hosted recent classes.

Better ecosystem
Aside from the classes, CPO takes the Making Sense of Money program on-site to employers. Johnson said CoxHealth recently signed up to host six classes next year. SRC Holdings Corp. is also on tap for the program in 2020. In total, CPO has helped an average of more than 200 per year the last four years through the program, she said.

“Discussion is the key point to those classes,” Johnson said. “They’re not set up for the instructor or facilitator to talk at someone. We like to keep those pretty compact so that we can foster that communication.”

The first part of the class curriculum focuses on adjusting emotions, value systems and beliefs about money, she said. It then moves into the importance of a budget, what it is and how to create one.

“We address how we have limiting beliefs or have been taught certain things about money that keep us in a certain place in our lives,” she said.

Pratt said by the program building budgeting skills, those same individuals who earn less than $40,000 a year, or $80,000 if two members of the household are working, can parlay that experience toward the state’s Fast Track program. It launched in early August. Full tuition and fees for up to four semesters of full-time enrollment at any Missouri public college or university are covered by Fast Track grants, designed to help students attain degrees in high-demand fields, such as health care and computer science.

“It’s really created a better ecosystem by CPO taking their particular programs and seeing how they align with the communitywide goals,” she said.

Raising awareness
Formerly dubbed Come And See How, or C.A.S.H., the Making Sense of Money program was rebranded two years ago, Johnson said. At that same time, a challenge-funding goal was launched to bolster the program, allowing more class offerings.

Christi Gibson, community development and relations manager at Great Southern Bank, said she took the lead on the challenge campaign, bringing in around $25,000.

“She’s always been our cheerleader in the program,” Johnson said of Gibson.

Great Southern and Multipli Credit Union are among those who have been longtime contributors to the program, which includes employees volunteering to teach lessons on budgeting and saving.

“We want to raise awareness of the program itself and what they’re trying to do for our community,” Gibson said. “This is a really effective way to reach unbanked or underbanked people that are in need.”

Those who are unbanked or underbanked tend to turn to payday loans or title loans when in need of quick money, Johnson said. It’s a practice the Making Sense of Money program discourages.

Payday loans currently are a subject of discussion at City Hall. Springfield City Council members are considering a short-term rental code to establish a permit for payday loan businesses in operation and to enforce an annual $5,000 business license. The original bill and its substitute bill were both tabled at council’s Oct. 21 meeting, and they’re set to return to the agenda in February.

To further study what can be done locally to address payday loan businesses, city officials agreed to form a task force organized by City Manager Jason Gage. CPO President and CEO Janet Dankert was selected to lead the group.

Pratt said the task force and City Council addressing an issue like predatory lending is a good step to tackling a problem on a local level.

“If we can’t change legislation, what can we do as a city to try and address that?” she asked.

Officials say it’s common for participants in the Making Sense of Money class to use payday lenders.

“Around 75% of the people who come into our class have indicated at one point in the last three years they’ve either used a pawn shop or a payday lender or title loan to gain access to funds,” Johnson said. “Once they’ve left our program and we’ve polled them after one year, zero percent are using pawn shops or predatory lending.”

Topics such as predatory lending and credit building are part of Ask the Experts, another CPO financial literacy offering. Johnson said each session has a narrower focus designed to cover a specific topic, including understanding loans and rebuilding credit.

’s challenging, and I think educating people about predatory lending is a key focus of financial literacy,” she said.

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