UI Extension programs help local families with stabilizing their finances

By Kelly Gibbs

Prioritizing financial expenses is a concern for many during these tough economic times. The Illinois Extension recognizes that for many families income has dropped significantly. Through Illinois Extension’s Web site, individuals are able to come up with solutions to their money management and spending challenges.

Darla Heath, County Extension director at the University of Illinois Extension, has taken note of the changing economic climate in Champaign. Heath is working on a Money Mentor program to help families in need.

“We plan to train volunteers to work with families to establish financial goals, reduce debt and find local resources to help them achieve their goals,” Heath said.

The Money Mentor program is planned to start at the beginning of 2009.

“Those who are interested may want to take a look at our Web site for details, but I would be more than happy to answer their questions from the University Extension office,” Heath said.

Susan Taylor, the program’s consumer and family economics educator, offered advice about specific improvements families can use to properly prioritize their budget and stay in their homes.

“Items of fixed expenses like your rent should take priority, car payments number two, utilities and insurance are number three and four,” Taylor said. “Flexible expenses, such as food and clothing, gives you more options and should constitute some of the last expenses on your list.”

Headings on the Illinois Extension Web site are especially helpful for anyone looking for quick personal assistance. A wide range of resources work to provide helpful tips and tricks to keeping control of finances. Some of the headings include Managing Your Finances, Taking Control of Your Spending, Helping Families Cope, Spend Smart/Save Tips.

“One of the key things is that if you are having problems paying your bills you need to contact your creditors,” Taylor said. “After a creditor has turned it over to a collection agency there is very little you can do at that point.”

One of the most important tips is to set priorities for your spending. According to the Getting Through Tough Financial Times Web site provided by the Illinois Extension, people try to hide financial problems from themselves or others. Having the lack of cash may be worse than the financial problem itself. It is important to look realistically at the situation and actively seek solutions to problems.

“It is most important for people to live within their budgets, people must realize when they put things on their credit cards they will eventually have to repay them with interest,” said Anne Villamil, economics professor. “This is especially problematic for students who are borrowing money, they need to make economic decisions carefully in an economy with a poor labor market.”