November is Financial Literacy Month (FLM). It’s the time of year when Canadians are encouraged to do a financial checkup. With new apps and online financial tools, it’s never been easier to assess your financial well-being. But where do you start, if you are missing basic financial literacy in subjects like debt, credit, financing, and budgeting? And where do you go if you want to understand your financial rights and responsibilities?
Theresa Baran is familiar with this dilemma. Growing up in Edmonton, Theresa’s father was her first financial mentor. “My Dad,” she smiles, “was the first person to teach me about money.” Although her father focused on saving his money, Theresa never forgot the big, unexpected purchase he had made for his family.
As a nine-year-old girl, Theresa vividly recalled her father pulling into their driveway with a vehicle. “It was blue, had big wheels, and was beautiful,” she said. “It was the fanciest car I had ever seen. My dad was the first Native man in our neighbourhood to buy a car.” After years of saving, the family had its first vehicle for $2000. It was a large purchase for a young family, which included Theresa and her two siblings.
Theresa’s Dad imparted financial wisdom to his daughter that she carries to this day. “Always have money to put a roof over your head,” he reminded her, “and never be homeless.” Then, suddenly, on her 18th birthday, Theresa’s father died, and everything in her life changed.
Theresa had nobody to advise her on money management, and she didn’t know who to ask for guidance. Although her dad taught her so much about saving, he didn’t have time to explain credit, debt, and rules about income tax. Living on her own, she found work at a daycare, a career she held for 22 years. She tried to save her money but lacked basic financial literacy. Now at 48 years of age, Theresa is on Assured Income for the Severely Handicap (AISH), where she needs to survive on a fixed income where every dollar counts.
Bissell Centre offers a variety of programs on financial empowerment to improve the lives of people on low incomes. These free programs allow participants to feel empowered in their financial decision-making, helping them to avoid making poor financial choices or being taken advantage of by unscrupulous companies that offer easy financing and high-interest payments. Participants create budgets, file taxes, access government programs, and create realistic savings plans.
Katrina John-West, Team Lead of Financial Empowerment, says the program is providing financial information that many of us take for granted. John-West, who holds a business degree, covers topics ranging from debt and credit to budgeting and knowing your financial rights, giving participants the confidence to manage their money. “Bissell even helped me file my income taxes,” says Theresa, adding, “When I worked at the daycare, I had a T4. Now that I am on AISH, it’s different, and I have a T5.”
Thanks, in part, to her father’s advice, Theresa has never been homeless. “Do good things with your money and don’t cry away your blues by drinking and drug use,” guided her dad. For the first time in her life, Theresa says she feels like “an independent woman” having taken the Financial Empowerment program.
Theresa Baran shares the financial skills she developed as part of the Bissell Centre’s Financial Empowerment Program for Financial Literacy Month.
The key to the Financial Empowerment Program is facilitators, like Katrina John-West, who possess social services and business backgrounds and spend time one-on-one with participants, including Theresa Baran.