• By Jonathan Higuera
With mounting medical costs from his hip replacement and her cancer treatments—including numerous stays in the hospital last year—Daniel Sedivec, 68, and his wife, Jean Nesunski, 60, found it difficult to keep up with their bills.
Last September, the Sun City couple enrolled in a free AARP Foundation Finances 50+ course to learn more about handling debt and dealing with creditors. They came away with a clearer understanding of how to better manage their entire budget.
Now they think twice about every purchase and decide whether it is a “need” or a “want.” They even bought a used golf cart to drive instead of their car on short trips around their neighborhood to save on gas. They’ve also started a vacation fund to save for a trip.
“The classes opened our eyes about stuff we may have been spending on that we really couldn’t afford or wasn’t a need,” said Sedivec, who retired as police chief of a small Missouri town in 1998.
One of seven pilot sites
That sort of thinking is just what the AARP Foundation and the Charles Schwab Foundation envisioned when they established the program last year as a pilot in seven cities: Austin, Baltimore, Denver, New Orleans, Phoenix, San Francisco and Washington. Eventually, the program may expand to other parts of the country.
At the Banner Olive Branch Senior Center in Sun City, volunteer Nancy Laska, 74, a retired bookkeeper, coordinates the Finances 50+ program, teaches classes and is in charge of training other volunteers.
So far, 16 volunteers have been trained. More train-the-trainer sessions will be planned as additional volunteers step forward.
More than 100 people have completed the course. Each of its three sessions lasts about 90 minutes.
Laska and Ivy Glinski, director at the senior center, also are reaching out to other Phoenix-area senior centers and churches to host additional courses.
The number of volunteers trained to lead classes will depend on the number of venues offering classes, Laska said. But the center’s goal is to have 1,000 people take the Finances 50+ courses by the fall.
Using a workbook, participants are taught to assess their financial status, set goals and practice prudent financial habits and behaviors.
But there’s no invasion of privacy.
“Nobody divulges their financial status,” Laska said. Her first classes were filled with future volunteer trainers, including Karen Richardson, 71, who retired five years ago after spending most of her career as a buyer for an Indiana medical manufacturing company.
“In the classes you write down and list where you spend your money,” Richardson said.
“I’ve always been frugal, but many people get to the end of the month, and they don’t know what they have spent,” she said.
‘Money mentors’ available
After taking the courses, participants can get help from a volunteer “money mentor,” who serves as a resource for them on any follow-up financial issues.
The Arizona program is still recruiting money mentors, and Laska said she hopes some Charles Schwab employees will volunteer to fill that role.
Sedivec and Nesunski are putting into practice their newly acquired financial skills.
“It’s not a miracle, but it has helped us a lot,” Sedivec said. “Seniors need to know it’s a changing world. Everything has gone up in price, and you have to budget your money properly or risk falling behind.”
For information about attending classes or volunteering, call the Banner Olive Branch Senior Center at 623-974-6797.
Jonathan Higuera is a freelance writer living in Phoenix, Ariz.