Financial course aims to empower women
September 9, 2016
For nearly four years, Shellie Barrus, executive director of the Habitat for Humanity of Summit and Wasatch Counties, and financial adviser Kathleen Barlow had been brainstorming concepts for a course aimed at empowering women through teaching them the basics of personal financial management.
They put their ideas into action during the summer, creating a free eight-week course called "She Means Business." The class, which recently held its final session, brought in 10 women from the community to learn about topics such as redefining their relationships with money, investing, budgeting and credit scores.
Barlow, an adviser with Raymond James Private Client Group, has developed a reputation for working with women in the Park City area, hosting regular finance-themed workshops. But the partnership with Habitat for Humanity, she said, enabled her to reach women she wouldn't have been able to on her own.
"I wasn't meeting these women and I wanted to meet them," she said. "And the other part is that having a course that lasted two months really enabled me to see improvement with what the women were doing with their money, instead of just a one-off workshop."
Each class was stimulating, Barrus said. Professionals in the financial industry gave presentations at each session, and no matter the topic, students were open to discussing their experiences. And they were eager to implement what they were learning into their day-to-day financial habits. Being a part of it, Barrus said, was an "amazing experience."
"Money is not an easy thing to talk about with other people," she said, "and they were all so willing to talk about their issues and listen to other perspectives. They had some real conversations about it. It was enlightening to me to see the difference it made."
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The importance of budgeting was one of the most critical lessons the course aimed to teach, Barlow said. Before the course, most of the students were not using a budget and few were saving money every month. But their habits quickly shifted when they learned that budgeting is the foundation of financial success — and that failing to budget can mean financial disaster.
"We could see right away that was a big moment for them," she said. "Once they learn how to do it, it's very empowering because then they know where all their money is going, and they can make changes (to their spending) based on the budget."
Another crucial topic was credit. Barlow said some women in the class didn't know how to improve their credit scores, while others weren't sure how to build credit at all. A good credit score is vital, while a bad one can put some of life's biggest purchases, such as homes and cars, out of reach.
"To learn the accurate way of improving and building your credit score was really beneficial for these women," Barlow said.
Whitney Leavitt, who works at the nonprofit organization Peace House, signed up for the course because she had never taken a finance class but saw the value in learning more about money. She echoed Barlow's assessment that budgeting and credit were the highlight topics of the class.
"I thought that if you max out your credit card, then pay it off every month, that was fine," she said. "But you're not supposed to max out your card. You're only supposed to use 20 or 30 percent of the money on your card, even if you have a lower limit. That was extremely valuable."
Barrus said she was inspired by the fact the women in the class came from several backgrounds, from their ethnicities to their careers. The range of life experiences students could draw upon and discuss gave the course an additional element neither Barrus nor Barlow predicted.
"Everybody learned so much about more than just finances," Barrus said.
Barrus added that the success of the course has prompted discussions about offering another one next spring. She said she understands that the class didn't make any of the students financial experts, but she believes it might have changed their lives.
"Financial stability doesn't happen over an eight-week class," she said. "But the concepts, and talking about creating a roadmap and a vision of what they want long term, is a big deal."