With high foreclosure rates and 13.1 million people unemployed nationwide, stories of financial hardships and missed bill payments are nothing new, but a small group of individuals are meeting throughout the Valley in hopes of changing that and having a new tale to tell.
Tempe's Grace Community Church is hosting a 13-week, do-it-yourself financial workshop on Wednesdays. The class, which started Jan. 18 and is titled Financial Peace University, uses the methods of Dave Ramsey, who advocates slow, simple changes in a family's spending habits.
"I like to put the cookies on the bottom shelf where everyone can reach them. Financial Peace University combines God's and grandma's ways of handling money. These are common sense principles that help families and individuals make the right decisions with their money," Ramsey said in an email.
At the heart of his program are seven "baby steps" that deal with saving, debt, retirement, mortgages and college funding. These building blocks are centered on helping families change the way they live and teach them to be more responsible with money.
The class facilitator, J.B. Cotten, cites himself as a living testament to the program. Several years ago, he and his wife decided to attend the same workshop at their church.
"It affected us. We decided it was something we wanted to get involved with," Cotten said.
The couple learned how to develop and live within a budget and change their attitudes about money, he said. Recently unemployed, Cotton said that Ramsey's principles rescued them; Had the couple not been saving and spending wisely, they would be in dire straits.
Ramsey teaches his students to develop a $1,000 emergency fund right away and stash three to six months of living expenses away. Families are only to tap these funds when something unexpected happens, such as a car or medical problem.
Large purchases, such as furniture sets, should be made using what he calls the "sinking fund" approach. The curriculum teaches people to pay for things in cash, not plastic.
"People have struggled over the past few years because they've lost their jobs or aren't making as much money as they used to. The problem is that people spend every penny that's coming in and then finance the other ‘stuff' they thought they needed," Ramsey said.
By living in a fiscally conservative manner, Ramsey notes, families can weather life's surprises - just as Cotten did. A lavish lifestyle will be hard to finance if one person takes a pay cut or a job is lost.
"When people started losing their jobs and their incomes, they got scared because they didn't know how they were going to make the payments they could ‘afford' before," Ramsey said.
Norm and Cheryl, a Chandler couple who asked that their last names not be identified, understand the importance of this lesson. While they do not have credit card debt or car payments, the couple has endured a rough patch the past few years.
Norm has been laid off three separate times over the past five years, and while he and his wife are OK financially at the moment, they are gradually getting deeper in debt. Deciding to seize the moment, the couple attended Cotten's facilitation of Ramsey's class.
"We wanted to go through (the class) together. Reading (Ramsey's) book is nothing like going to a class," Norm said.
The course material also espouses Biblical principles, which both Norm and Cheryl agree with. One of the main concepts covered deals with people's perception of money.
It is not good or evil, as people often think it is, Ramsey teaches. Rather money is amoral - just an object, and can be good or bad only when put in a person's hands.
Ramsey points to a Bible verse - 1 Timothy 6:10 - during the class. This passage cites the idea that the love of money can spawn wrong doings, not money itself. "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil," the verse reads.
The class also aims to teach spouses to communicate about money, outlining different attitudes men and women often have about finances.
Men may tend to view money as a "scorecard," or something indicative of a person's social status, while it might represent security to women. This can be problematic, Cotten explains.
"Too many couples don't communicate well. It can hurt the marriage," Cotten said.
It is important to have both a short- and long-term financial strategies, the course teaches.
"If you don't pay attention to your money you'll wander through life and then wake up at retirement and wonder where all your money went. Without a plan for your money it's easy to get into a financial mess," Ramsey said. "I hope this economic downturn has been a wake up to people and shown them that their financial strategies have to work in the good times and the bad."
The class is on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. and is still accepting new students. More information can be found online at www.daveramsey.com/fpu.