Jennifer Watson (left) with her Sound Outreach Financial Counselor, Julie Tran.
When we heard about Jennifer Watson’s story, we learned what determination was.
Having overcome homelessness, joblessness, and a heart-wrenching health scare for her daughter who was born with a respiratory issue, Jennifer kept seeking ways to help herself and her family (she also has a son). Even when she had to stop working or attending classes to care full-time for her daughter, she kept her goals in front of her. It wasn’t easy though: as her situation dragged on, she felt her professional skills erode.
Two things changed the game for Jennifer: through her perseverance (and a bit of luck), she landed an interview for an entry-level DSHS job that would build her skills toward becoming a Financial Services Assistant. She nailed the interview and got the job, and because her income increased, she was referred to a Sound Outreach Financial Counselor.
When someone meets with a Sound Outreach Financial Counselor for the first time, one of the things we check is a person’s credit history. Jennifer’s credit score? She had no idea, because she hadn’t looked in years; she figured it would just be bad news. Without work, she had felt powerless to change that so she felt better not knowing. “Not only financially, but mentally, I wasn’t ready to worry about credit or anything. I just wasn’t there,” she said.
Jennifer knew her credit score was important information. She had taken a financial literacy course at Goodwill years ago that explained the basics of credit and savings. Seeing how this information could help her was a different story.
When she was young, she had been the victim of financial fraud. She lost her trust in banks, which she thought was supposed to prevent such theft. “I was really young, and I was never guided financially,” she said. Instead, she stashed money away throughout the house, in clothes, anywhere that wasn’t a bank. Some years later, she tried again: “I got an account and the next day I shut it down because I was so overwhelmed.”
Jennifer’s Financial Counselor, Julie, learned all this by spending time talking to Jennifer and hearing her story over several meetings. Julie set about rebuilding Jennifer’s trust in financial institutions. She quickly realized that while Jennifer was feeling overwhelmed, she was already doing the hard work: to keep her family going, Jennifer had created a handwritten budgeting system for herself, meticulously listing out all her spending and trying to plan for the weeks ahead.
A sample of Jennifer’s handwritten budget, which she used to track weekly expenses.
Julie saw how effective Jennifer’s method was but felt even more impressed by the goals Jennifer had set for herself. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Julie helped Jennifer put all the pieces together, starting with showing Jennifer that her credit score wasn’t as bad as she feared – she just had to look at it first. In a moment, Jennifer’s doubt was gone. Her credit score wasn’t terrible. It was good enough to start imagining possibilities. She had thought it was “so far gone that nothing was possible.” Now, talking to Julie, even her goal of home ownership seemed achievable, and she was all in.
One day, just after a financial counseling session with Julie, Jennifer walks into a credit union and opens new savings and checking accounts. “With the hope that [Julie] gave me, pulling my credit score and just seeing that I can do things to build the score to be able to get into a home is what did it.” She was on her way.
At the same time she opened the accounts, she also committed to a strict savings routine. Julie had no idea all this was happening – until their next meeting. Jennifer arrived for her meeting with Julie and excitedly proclaimed that not only had she opened new accounts, she had also saved by using her handwritten budgets to squeeze out small amounts every week. In the three months since Jennifer last saw Julie, she had pulled together over $400 – just in time to pay for a birthday party for her daughter, who was now healthier and fast approaching her 7thbirthday.
If Jennifer could have offered herself advice when she was younger, she would have told herself to get a knowledgeable advocate and have an open mind at the 1stmeeting. Luckily, Financial Counselors like Julie are here to be exactly that kind of advocate.
To learn more how Sound Outreach’s financial counseling services can help you build your financial management skills to achieve your financial goals, visit us at www.soundoutreach.org/services. Like with Jennifer, one of our AFCPE-certified Financial Counselors can help you take the first steps in your journey toward prosperity.
For more information about ways you can get involved with Sound Outreach, please visit www.soundoutreach.org/you-can-help.