In June, financial education nonprofit Budget Buddies officially became Women’s Money Matters, a change executive director Danielle Piskadlo said was made to better reflect the group’s mission.
“Women come to us because they they are in trouble with with their finances, have a financial goal that they want to reach or, especially through the pandemic, lost or left their sources of income — in many cases for the first time,” said Piskadlo. “They’re feeling scared and nervous about their financial futures.”
She points out that the pandemic took a toll on working women, given school closures and acute childcare shortages, and was particularly hard on single parents: The poverty rate for single mothers in Massachusetts is 32.8% versus just 3.5% for married couples.
Piskadlo says part of the answer is education.
Women’s Money Matters offers a series of workshops on financial topics including managing credit, identifying fraud, negotiating pay and creating a savings and spending plan. Workshops are taught by both male and female volunteers, often with banking or financial backgrounds, last about 90 minutes and are presented both in person and via Zoom. Loaner hotspots and tablets are available. The group partners with more than 60 social services agencies, including Lowell’s Alternative House and House of Hope, and has served more than 1,000 women.
Every participant is matched one-to-one with a coach, and the teams attend workshops together. Coaches provide ongoing, individualized support to address participants’ unique money-management goals and challenges.
There are now 110 women on the group’s wait list seeking education. In most cases, the issue is the timing of workshops, according to a poll.
“One of the things we heard quite a bit was they were looking for a daytime program,” said director of programs Bernadette Wheeler. “That is one of the areas that we do have trouble recruiting volunteers for, most likely because they’re working during the day.”
The group serves women over the age of 14 who are living on low incomes, including those in shelters and transitional housing. It serves all of Southern New England, with a focus on the Merrimack Valley.
A core value is empowerment — elevating and inspiring women to work towards their goals by fostering bravery, accountability, continuous improvement and determination.
Wheeler says they look for coaches willing to make an individual connection and build trust.
“You don’t need to bring any type of financial background,” said Piskadlo. “In fact, we find sometimes that can almost be a hindrance, because women who work in finance have a very clear picture of how they think budgeting should be done. And that doesn’t always work for the lifestyles of the women in our program.”
Women’s Money Matters is unique in its three pillars: A comprehensive course of instruction, one-on-one mentoring throughout the program and a focus on small cohorts of women who often have commonalities. For example, Wheeler says a program is starting August 1, working with Bridget’s Crossing in Lowell, which serves pregnant and parenting teens.
“The group is young mothers between the ages of 15 and 21, and that’s going to be an in-person program,” she said. “We’re still looking for coaches for that.”
Volunteer coaches may select from a variety of opportunities based on their interests and backgrounds.
“When we’re working with a particular organization, like Alternative House, we had a lot of people who signed up for that program specifically because they had experienced domestic violence,” said Wheeler. “There are always options when you’re signing up to coach or volunteer.”
The group offers a general coach orientation, and once volunteers select the programs they’re going to work in, there may be more detailed training.
“For example, someone from House of Hope would come in and talk to the coaches about ‘a day in the life’ for their residents and answer any questions,” said Wheeler.
There are program leaders who coaches may go to for questions and support, and the group offers a monthly meetup.
“All of the coaches from all of the running programs have the opportunity to come together and share any challenges that they’re facing,” said Piskadlo. The goal is to help coaches connect with their program participants.
“It’s from there the behavioral change really happens, because the participant feels like this person cares about me, they’re here because they care,” she said.
Piskadlo says the group, which has a staff of 10, is looking to reach as many women as possible while maintaining a very personal, individualized program.
“Everyone who gets welcomed into our little community is really special to us,” she said. “We want them to feel like this is a safe place that they can land and be honest about their struggles and not feel judged.”