Learn how to manage your money by taking a free online course offered by Goodwill

manage your moneyOnce out of prison, one of your first priorities will be to find a job. But then what? How about learning to manage your money?

How do you manage the money you earn? How will you handle your expenses as well as possible? You may have to come up with rent for a place to live, money for a car or transportation and possibly deal with child support payments or have debts to pay off.

If you’ve been in prison for a while, your finance handling skills may be a bit rusty and in need of an upgrade. But don’t worry. There’s an excellent money management course – the best basic one we found online – offered free of charge by the Goodwill Community Foundation. Yes, it’s the same Goodwill that operates thrift stores. But this program, GCFLearnFree.org, is produced in coordination with Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina.

The tutorial, as the organization calls its online classes, is called Money Basics, and the lessons are broken down into four areas:

  • Money management
  • Banking and retirement
  • Money in the marketplace
  • Extras

The lessons are very basic and explain everything in an easily understandable way. They also include links to online resources that provide even more information.

If you take the tutorial, you will begin by looking at how you manage money and if you need to make any changes in the way you do it. There’s a quiz to determine how much you know about basic finances and eight steps to take to better manage your money.

Some of the lessons and what you might learn in them

Creating a budget explains what a budget is and how to create one. It includes a budget worksheet listing all the things you might need to pay for and a math tutorial for those weak in the numbers department. There are tips for things that can help you stay within your budget, like making sure the price of an item is the best you can find, shopping at thrift stores and not eating out as much.

Credit goes into detail about loans and credit cards, how to chose a credit card and what you need to know about credit reports. It also includes a calculator to estimate the actual cost of a loan at various interest rates.

Staying out of debt defines debt and helps you decide whether you have too much. It explains credit counseling and bankruptcy and gives tips on how to stay solvent.

Other lessons cover such crucial information as banks and credit unions, exactly what you need to do to open a checking account and how to deal with ATMs, and learning to put money away in a savings account.

Four lessons deal with things that are purchased or rented

Shopping teaches how to comparison shop and get the best deals.

Buying a car will help you establish a budget, research the type of vehicle you’d like to buy, learn how to negotiate and determine what the car will really cost after everything is added together.

Finding a place to rent teaches those looking for a place to live how to explore the options and includes a list of questions to ask a potential landlord.

Buying a house covers whether you can afford to and, if so, how to find one, make an offer and get a loan.

This Money Basics tutorial can be completed at your own pace, so it’s not clear how long it will take you. But spend the time, and you will be more knowledgeable about money-related matters and better able to get your financial life back in gear.

To learn even more about money management, click here.


MIT Living Wage Calculator can help determine how much money you will need for life in various U.S. cities

living wageIf you’re leaving prison and haven’t been in the workforce for a while, if ever, you might want to turn to the Living Wage Calculator, created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It can help you find the answers to a few questions you’ll need to ask yourself as you look for a job:

  • How much money do I estimate it will take to live a basic life?
  • What is the hourly wage I will need to make in the area where I plan to be living?

This information is important to know to make sure you’ll make enough money to live a basic life and/or to consider what type of work to prepare for. Certainly the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour may not be enough.

Even life in cities like San Francisco – which raised its minimum wage to $13 per hour on July 1, 2016, and will raise it again to $14 per hour on July 1, 2017 – can be a struggle for those in jobs that don’t pay more than that.

The minimum wage may not be enough to live on

In many – or most – cases the minimum wage – even that of the few states and cities that have decent ones – won’t meet the needs of most people, so it’s a number you may want to ignore.

Calculating the living wage, however, is very useful. It will let you know the amount of money you need to survive in a specific area of the country. The living wage is the minimum amount of money that people require to meet their basic needs. And the MIT Living Wage Calculator is a very useful online tool that can be utilized to calculate that number.

The Living Wage Calculator determines the living wage for 13 situations ranging from 1 working adult to 2 adults (1 working) and 2 adults with 3 children.

It also includes a list of typical expenses: food, childcare, medical, housing and transportation, as well as the required annual income before taxes, so people will know how much they will need to earn.

For example, a single working adult in Alameda County, Calif., which includes Oakland and Berkeley, will need a required annual income before taxes of $33,116. In St. Louis that figure is $21,702, and in Atlanta it’s $24,988.

A third chart for each location lists the typical annual salaries for a wide variety of jobs in that area.

The website is searchable by state and then county. Using this calculator, along with the other resources you discover as you look for employment, will help you ensure that you get a job that is not only something you find acceptable but will also pay the expenses necessary for a basic lifestyle for wherever you will be living.


Learning money management can improve chances for success

Woman Balancing Her CheckbookIf you’ve been in jail or prison for a while, it may have been a long time since you handled finances, balanced a checkbook or dealt with such monthly payments as rent, transportation and possibly child support.

You may, in fact, come out of prison already in debt from nonpayment of credit cards, child support and/or fees related to the crime you committed, court costs or the services you require. Many states charge parole supervision fees, which are not usually very high but for someone who is out of work may be an added burden.

Unpaid and continuing child support can be an exceptional challenge. A study of Colorado parolees cited in “Repaying Debts,” a 2007 report published by the Justice Center of The Council of State Governments, discovered that they owed on average $16,600 in child support.

Whether you owe anything or are debt free, it’s essential to learn how to manage money. Some reentry programs will offer workshops to help you to succeed in this area. If you can’t find a workshop, set up your own  money management system.

The first thing to do, if you owe anyone money, is to make a list of all your creditors and how much you owe each. If you don’t think you will be able to pay the monthly payments, contact a credit counseling agency, but you have to be careful with these, since some of them are unethical.

The U.S. Department of Justice has a database of approved credit counseling agencies listed by state on its website. You can find it at http://www.justice.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/cc_approved.htm

The National Federation for Credit Counseling is a national organization whose more than 700 members in 50 states and Puerto Rico are nonprofit, community-based agencies that provide free or low-cost credit counseling. You can search the site by state or zip code to find the member agency nearest you at www.nfcc.org

Whether you owe money or not, it’s important to set up a budget listing your monthly expenses, including housing, food, transportation, clothing, child expenses, medical care, etc. Try to economize as much as possible and stick to the budget, avoiding impulse purchases of things you might want but don’t need.

A great site run by the U.S. Federal government educates Americans on all matters related to money, including how to take care of your finances, create a budget, save money, determine whether a credit or a debit card makes more sense and other matters that will help you as you begin to put your finances in order. Find it at www.mymoney.gov

The National Endowment for Financial Education runs another excellent site, Smart About Money, that is dedicated to educating people about financial goals and is filled with how-to articles and tools to help you achieve your own goals.  Check it out at www.smartaboutmoney.org

If you’re computer savvy, you might want to consider working with Mint, a website that will help you organize all of your accounts in one place, set a budget, create financial goals that it will track and recommend ways you can save money. Learn more at www.mint.com