Residents Overcome Tight Budgets to Achieve Independence
by Laurie Arendt

MILWAUKEE – Milwaukee resident Jerrina McBride knows what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck. But as a graduate of the "Make Your Money Talk" program, she's also learned a very real benefit of saving.

"My name is Jerrina McBride and I am a homeowner," she said to applause as she started her keynote speech at the graduation ceremony, held December 4, 2013 at the Hillside Family Resource Center.

Make Your Money Talk is a program offered by the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM) and the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation to help low-income residents maximize their tight incomes to start building assets that can lead to a strong future.

"It's not easy to save when you have kids and you have a life, but when I received a flyer in the mail for this program, it was something that really interested me," said McBride.

She said that the coursework made her really understand how she could make her money work for her.

"It was an investment in myself and my family," said McBride, speaking about the home purchase that was made possible through her participation in the program and in her investment in an Individual Development Account (IDA).

Through automatic withdrawals of $50 per paycheck, she was able to invest $2,000 in her IDA after graduating from the program. With a two-to-one match on her saved dollars, within a year, McBride was able to save $6,000 for the down payment on a home.

McBride had been a participant in HACM's Rent Assistance Program for 10 years, but Make Your Money Talk and her commitment to saving helped her achieve independence.  

"This program helped me accomplish something that not many people in my family have been able to do," describing her purchase of a five-bedroom home in Milwaukee. "It was definitely hard to adjust to not having that money every week - there's always something that money can be put toward."

But McBride said the reward of regular savings was worth it.

"It feels good because it let me invest in my future a little at a time, and once I was able to buy a house, it gave us so much independence," she said. "This program really works."

"We are constantly inspired by residents like Ms. McBride who use Make Your Money Talk to achieve their goals," said HACM Secretary-Executive Director Tony Pérez. "We invest in this program because the positive results far outweigh and outlast the investment."

In 2012 the program was expanded to Rent Assistance participants because of a grant from the US Conference of Mayors, allowing thousands more people like McBride to participate.

"Make Your Money Talk is a great value for Milwaukee and its residents, and it made sense to expand this successful program," said Mayor Tom Barrett, who secured the additional funding.

In 2013, 181 Milwaukee residents have graduated from the "Make Your Money Talk" program. Since 2004, the program has graduated over 950 residents. Those who go on to fund IDA accounts can use the accumulated funds for a variety of investments in their futures. This year alone, participants achieved some remarkable financial milestones in 2013: Seven homes purchased, four businesses started and 10 graduates have used their savings to attend college. Since the program's inception, participants have saved $325,000 in IDA accounts.

"One thing that was really great is that once I found a home I wanted to purchase, the money was readily available," said McBride. "I didn't have hoops to jump through. It was a very straightforward process."

She also continues to apply the information she's learned in the "Make Your Money Talk" program to her own life and shares the information with others.

"I learned so much," McBride said. "I repaired my credit. In fact, my credit score is now in the 800s. I've also gone on and taken other classes, too."

Even though she's achieved the goal of becoming a homeowner thanks to this program, she continues to save money.

"I'm saving now to either go to school or start my own business," said McBride. "I'd like to open a community-based residential facility, and start with a group home."

These are goals Jerrina knows she can accomplish.

"The thing I've enjoyed most about this program is that it really taught me how I can make my own money work for me: It showed me that the money I make, regardless of my hourly wage, can speak for me, rather than putting my hard-earned money into someone else's pocket," said McBride. "It gave me the opportunity to start investing in me."

It was a message that resonated with the roomful of new program graduates, their families and honored guests at the graduation ceremony. Ninety-three graduates were honored at the ceremony, which included remarks by a number of guests, including County Supervisor David Bowen and Ann Wilson, manager of the Hillside Resource Center.

"Celebrate this," McBride told the graduates and their families. "And next year, buy a house, go to school and start a business."

All are possible, and Jerrina McBride is just one example of someone who started from the beginning and made it happen.