Get Your Finances Under Control: Cleveland Saves Interview

Cleveland Saves is a non-proift organization that can help you get your finances under control.

The mission of Cleveland Saves is to help you get your finances under control with planning strategies to reduce debt, build wealth, and create lifelong financial security.

Cleveland Saves is part of a national campaign founded by America Saves, managed by the non-profit organization Consumer Federation of America. Even if you aren't a resident of Cleveland, you can still sign up for free to become a member of the program and receive guidance, as the individual city campaigns and the national program are the same.

In the Cleveland Saves program, business and government institutions act as advisers to assist individuals ready to learn more productive money management skills. LoveToKnow Save talked with Elizabeth K. Hilton, the executive director of Cleveland Saves, about how the program helps everyone build a better financial future.

Get Your Finances Under Control: Cleveland Saves Interview

Why was the organization created?

Today, much of the population across the greater Cleveland area is categorized as being outside the financial mainstream. Referred to as the "unbanked", this group of individuals has been labeled in this fashion because of their lack of banking experience and financial knowledge. Many members of this group are minorities or newly arrived immigrants falling in the low-to-moderate income range.

These findings have been documented in two recent studies released by the Consumer Federation of America and the Financial Planning Association. The survey results found that an estimated 21 percent of Americans-of those 38 percent earn less than $25,000 annually-believe that the lottery is the most practical way to accumulate wealth. These findings can be attributed to the lack a basic understanding of how money works in our society. Therefore, an important segment of our population is left without the tools necessary to neither save nor manage their money. The result is that their lack of financial literacy deprives them of achieving the American dream of financial independence.

To this end, Cleveland Saves is a nonprofit organization encouraging our fellow area residents, typically those who are traditionally outside the mainframe, through financial action towards increased financial literacy using a grassroots model that enhances money skills of area residents. Our goal is to enhance the money skills of area residents, particularly for people with little or no banking experience and with lower-incomes. Through a partnership with the Consumer Federation of America, our regionally-based model was created by Cleveland leaders so that those with lower incomes could attain financial stability through encouragement and assistance. CFA uses this model to promote this initiative through its national effort called America Saves.

Local Partnership Makes a Difference

How does a program like this help people get finances under control?

Working from the view that financial literacy fosters financial stability, we believe that more people know about budgeting, credit and banking services, the more likely they are to increase savings, buy homes, and improve their financial health and overall well-being. Our grassroots approach works with individuals to encourage increased financial knowledge and to develop financial confidence. In the end, we hope to change behaviors through improved awareness of financial services and to build wealth through effective use.

Why does enrolling in a local campaign make a difference?

Our model works through partnership development. This model is supported by our established partnerships with more than 375 local organizations and growing. We feel that organizational partnerships offer a comprehensive path to encouraging area residents to change their behavior so that wealth building becomes habitual.

To date, Cleveland Saves philosophical approach has been well received by the community. In fact, our movement has enrolled more than 10,350 Cleveland-area residents who have increased their combined personal wealth by more than $7.3 million by putting aside savings each month and reducing debt.

Change Your Mindset About Money Management

Some people say, "I'm living paycheck to paycheck as it is. I can't save." How does a program like Cleveland Saves change that mindset?

Our philosophy exposes individuals to financial information through positive enriching exercises that enable them to become financially literate and better positioned for wealth building. While our target population is low-to-moderate income residents, we have found that the profile of a typical Cleveland Saver is overwhelmingly female, of which more than two-thirds are African-American. Generally, this Saver is a white-collar employee earning $35,000 or less annually.

The most popular savings goal is the creation of an emergency fund. The average monthly savings goal is $60 as indicated by enrollment forms.

How many campaigns are there nationwide?

Cleveland Saves has inspired communities around the country to organize their own grassroots, community-wide savings campaigns. As of this writing, there are more than 50 communities that have created a state, regional or local level Saves campaign.

Beyond this, Cleveland Saves' messages and basic strategies for organizing national initiatives have encouraged the creation of several national efforts to promote savings such as Black America Saves (with Black Entertainment Television), Hispanic America Saves (with Hispanic American groups), and Military Saves involving the Army, Navy and Marine Corps with the United States Department of Defense.

Become a Member of America Saves

What options are available to those interested in the program and opportunities available, but who don't have a local campaign resource?

Become a member of the America Saves program, simply by going on the website. There's no charge.

By becoming an American Saver, you have access to the following free benefits:

  • Free Build Wealth Not Debt brochure
  • Free information on savings accounts
  • A free annual subscription to American Saver, published four times a year
  • Free advice over the phone or by email from financial planners

Again, these materials do not cost a thing. Your only obligation is to develop a specific saving goal, select the type of account, make a deposit in this account each month (or make a debt payment), and let us know that you are working toward your saving goal by responding to the email from America Saves.

The Time to Save is Now

Anything else you'd like to add?

Studies show that a significant percentage of Americans want to save money. The statistics drop drastically when that desire is measured against taking actual steps toward saving. Why wait?

For those already saving we salute you. Your greatest benefit of becoming an American Saver then, is the written savings goal that the program requests. By identifying your goal you can now enjoy the benefits of being a Saver as you reach that goal- an interest bearing savings account with no fees added. It is our belief that you can never have too many vehicles for saving money.

Another frequent question we get is, "What if I owe someone? Can America/Cleveland Saves protect my money from being taken?"

One goal as an America/Cleveland Saver is freedom from debt and the troubles that debt brings. If you have a past debt that is unresolved, your America/Cleveland Saves account is not protected from collection activities by creditors that are legally allowed. As your partner in reaching your financial goals, America/Cleveland Saves and its affiliates would rather assist you in developing a debt repayment plan that is responsible, affordable, and one that you can maintain until you become debt free.

Get your finances under control with additional saving strategies found on the America Saves site.

~ Tracey L. Kelley

Get Your Finances Under Control: Cleveland Saves Interview