Author Archives: Megan Kuhn

Teen Workers are Saving Now for More Spending Power Tomorrow

teen worker bannerTeen workers are saving for the three Cs: Cars, Computers and College. Plus building emergency funds for unexpected expenses.

This is according to the teenagers who took the First Time Worker Pledge in our new class Making the Most of Your First Paycheck. The class uses materials from America Saves.

Extension has partnered with three groups to provide savings classes for teen workers this year. More than thirty teens pledged to save part of their paycheck. For example, one teen is saving $200 a month for 60 months to buy a $12,000 car. Another is saving $500 a month for six months for school costs.

Bicycling nonprofit Phoenix Bikes has a community bike shop in Arlington and its Earn-A-Bike program teaches bike repair to youth. Master Financial Education Volunteer Will Mason led four Phoenix Bikes employees through the savings orientation. Thank you to Phoenix Bikes’ Executive Director Meg Rapelye-Goguen for making the event happen.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington’s Dunbar Alexandria-Olympic Branch in the City of Alexandria provides youth programs and mentoring. At the Dunbar Alexandria-Olympic Branch, 14 teens pledged to save: 11 young men and three young ladies. Thank you to Dunbar staff Alston Waller and Patrice Hall for recruiting participants. Master Financial Education Volunteers Judith Kom and Katrin Kark gave a well-received presentation.

Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation’s Teen Entrepreneurial Amusement Management (T.E.A.M.) workers manage amusement rentals, including bouncy castles, cotton candy machines and rock climbing walls. Fourteen T.E.A.M. employees pledged to save: nine young men and five young ladies. Thank you to Parks and Rec staff Desi Jerry and Charlie Eby for help setting up the event. Charlie, who worked for the county when he was a teenager, gave a pep talk at the event. Master Financial Education Volunteers Bill Ross and Star Henderson lead the presentation.

Another crop of T.E.A.M. hires will participate in Making the Most of Your First Paycheck later in July. We expect more than 25 teens to pledge to save at this class.

Volunteer Spotlight: Jackie Rivas

Our volunteers rock. Want proof? Meet Jackie Rivas.

Master Financial Education Volunteer Jackie Rivas

Master Financial Education Volunteer Jackie Rivas

Name: Jackie Rivas
Lives: Arlington
Works: Staff Accountant at the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission
Master Financial Education Volunteer Since: 2011

Q: What do you like to do for fun?
A: I like to run on the bike path and ride bicycles.

I like to go to the movies. The Mexican movie “Paradise” was very cute. It is about an overweight couple. She stumbles on a diet center, and she gets her husband on a diet too. He starts to lose weight and she doesn’t. It was a nice insight into normal people.

Q: What is your favorite thing to save for?
A: My favorite thing to save for is to travel. My last exotic trip was Cambodia. I went to the Temple of Angkor Wat and took a cooking class in Siem Reap.

In Phnom Penh we spent a day at a bear rescue center. There is a popular dish called bear paw soup. This place will buy bears from restaurants to save them.

We also went to an elephant rescue center. If you go to Asia, do not ride elephants. It’s really hard on the elephant. It hurts their backs.

Q: Which do you enjoy most about being a Master Financial Education Volunteer?
A: Learning from the participants. I taught at Greenbrier Learning Center, and there was a woman who has implemented all the strategies we’ve been teaching.

She qualifies for food from Arlington Food Assistance Center, but she is determined to save $200 a month. I work with people who don’t save that much who make a lot more than she does.

When she doesn’t reach her goal, she looks for things she can cut. If she needs to cut cable, Internet or Starbucks, she does. This is someone who is highly motivated. It is amazing what people can do with limited resources.

Q: What else have you learned from teaching classes?
A: Some people have had bad experiences with banks in other countries. You need to talk about how banking in the U.S. is different from what they may have experienced elsewhere. U.S. banking is insured by the federal government. There are rules and regulations that protect the depositor.

It’s fairly prevalent in Mexico and Central America countries that if people don’t have access to banks and borrowing, they get a group and they all put money into a pot and lend it to someone.

They take turns borrowing the money and paying it back. It requires a lot of trust.  I’ve found it very educational to work with these people and learn about their creative ways to meet their needs.

Volunteer Spotlight: Jen Lanouette

Our volunteers rock. Want proof? Meet Jen Lanouette

Master Financial Education Volunteer Jen Lanouette

Master Financial Education Volunteer Jen Lanouette

Name: Jen Lanouette
Lives: Arlington
Works: Social Work Student at Catholic University
Master Financial Education Volunteer Since: May 2013.

Jen Lanouette has been coaching clients since she became a Master Financial Education Volunteer. She enjoyed one-on-one coaching so much, it helped spark a career change.

Q: What are you studying in grad school?
Social work. The Master Financial Education Volunteer program — working with clients one-on-one — is one of the things that prompted me to make a career change.

Q: What advice do you have for your financial coaches who are meeting with a new client for the first time?
A: Really listen to your client and what they see as their problem and challenges. Go at the pace they set. As volunteers, we are armed with a lot of information. But it is important to respect where your client is in the process.

Also, don’t be afraid to do additional research. Spend additional time gathering more information about challenges your client is facing. It’s important to keep learning about things that are specific to your client.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to save for?
A: I like to save for long-term priorities, like my daughter’s education and my family’s retirement. Savings to travel is another thing we prioritize. We are Outer Banks fans, so we try to save for a beach vacation.

Q: What’s your favorite money motto?
A: If you stick your head under the covers, it is not going to go away. When people don’t like financial stuff, there is a tendency to avoid it. The only way to deal with it is to dig in and start dealing with it.

Q: What do you do for fun?
I really enjoy cooking. It’s probably my favorite hobby. And reading.

Q: What was the last book you couldn’t put down?
A: The Working Poor: Invisible in America and Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. – How the Working Poor Became Big Business. Broke, USA is an analysis of payday loans, check cashing and rent-to-own businesses. It was really fascinating how predatory financial practices can be. The book profiled a lot of aggressive mortgage policies. For example, offering low income people mortgages and charging between 10 percent, 20 percent and 30 percent of the loan in upfront fees.

To nominate a Master Financial Education Volunteer for the spotlight, please email Megan Kuhn at

Volunteer Spotlight: Star Henderson

Our volunteers rock. Want proof? Meet Star Henderson

Name: Star Henderson
Lives: Falls Church, Va.
Works: Accredited Financial Counselor candidate and aFINRA Investor Education Foundation Military Spouse Fellow
Master Financial Education Volunteer Since: September 2014

Master Financial Education Volunteer Star Henderson

Master Financial Education Volunteer Star Henderson

Star Henderson provided invaluable behind-the-scenes help for our Northern Virginia Saves campaign. She created colorful graphics and scheduled 40 plus social media posts on our Facebook and Twitter accounts. She represented us in a Twitter chat with Arlington Community Federal Credit Union and The Centsables. The chat covered how to teach children about savings. This is just her behind-the-scenes volunteering! Henderson coaches clients, leads credit counseling and teaches classes.

Q: What would other volunteers be surprised to learn about you?
A: I’m a very introverted person who has to force myself to get out and to teach.

Q: What do you like to do fun?
A: Ride motorcycles with my husband and hang out with my kids.

Q: What is the hardest thing about being a financial coach?
A: Not doing something for the client and making sure the skills you’re teaching are sticking with the client. Sometimes we want to fix people, but we need to empower people to do it on their own.

Q: How did you handle pressure to do work for the client?
A: I’ve had clients who didn’t have a checkbook register. We were trying to balance their checkbook against their bank statements. I literally had to make sure I wasn’t writing down information for them. It would have taken me 5 minutes to write it in their register, but that wouldn’t have taught them anything.

Q: What is your favorite part of being a financial coach?
A: Making our clients believe they can manage their finances. The clients I have, their husbands always plan finances. The success story is that I’ve turned the women’s thinking around, and they are trying because they believe they can manage their finances.

Q: What do you know now that you wish you’d know when you first started volunteering?
A: There’s a wealth of knowledge throughout the volunteers. They are all very eager to help. Ask other volunteers about their experiences and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

To nominate a Master Financial Education Volunteer for the spotlight, please email Megan Kuhn at

From Russia to South Arlington

Extension has received a $7,500 grant from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to teach Russian city and nonprofit leaders about our volunteer program modules. We will be sharing best practices for volunteer-driven nonprofit work.

The grant is through the Embassy’s U.S.-Russia Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Program, which supports projects focused on peer-to-peer collaboration. Extension partnered with the nonprofit WSOS Community Action in Freemont, Ohio, on the grant application. The total grant is worth $95,000. In addition to visiting with us, the Russian delegation will meet with nonprofits in Ohio and Utah.

Volunteer Spotlight: Diana Yacob

Master Financial Education Volunteer Diana Yacob

Master Financial Education Volunteer Diana Yacob

Our volunteers rock. Want proof? Meet Diana Yacob.

Name: Diana Yacob
Lives: Alexandria
Works: assistant to a University of Maryland Extension specialist and an Accredited Financial Counselor candidate
Master Financial Education Volunteer Since: August 2014

Diana Yacob was instrumental in the success of our inaugural Money Smarts Payseries for Spanish speakers last fall. She taught the budgeting class, coached two clients and led study sessions to help all participants catch up on their action items. Her impact was evident at the awards ceremony, when Money Smarts Pay graduates said that they were budgeting their spending and saving money for emergencies.

Now Diana is helping Extension revise the lesson plans for the Spanish edition of Money Smarts Pay. The series starting in March will focus on small group or one-on-one coaching rather than all classroom instruction because literacy was a challenge for many participants. The new Money Smarts Pay Spanish will consist of 30 minutes of classroom instruction and 90 minutes of small group or one-on-one coaching rather than 90 minutes of classroom instruction.

Q: What’s your New Year’s resolution?
A: I can read and write in Korean. I’m intermediate, but I’d like to be advanced conversational, fluent. My mom is Korean. I’m the only child in my family who speaks Korean. Who’s going to connect with all the family that’s still in Korea? I need to get that down before the kids come, so the culture isn’t lost. If I can pass down the language of Korean, there’s still hope the Korean culture will survive in my family.

Q: If you’re stuck on an island, what are the three things you’d want with you?
A: My husband so I would have someone to talk to. He can go fish. A water purifier to stay alive. Can I bring a cell phone? I’ll bring a cell phone. But I have nothing to charge it with. Maybe a tarp instead?

Q: How did you become interested in financial education?
A: I took a personal finance course in undergrad. That professor became my mentor, and she helped me get into grad school. I went to Kansas State for my master’s in personal financial planning. I took the online program while I lived in Guatemala.

Q: What were you doing in Guatemala?
A: I was learning Spanish.

Q: Why Spanish and why in Guatemala?
A: At a previous job I wasn’t the receptionist, but my office was directly in front of the entrance. Every time people came in they talked to me. Eighty percent were Spanish speakers but I couldn’t speak Spanish. So, I decided to learn Spanish. I researched, and Guatemala was the cheapest place I could learn.

Q: What are some of the cultural differences you’ve run into when coaching immigrants?
A: There is a different understanding of finances. When I was working with the Spanish speakers, everything was new. When I was working with Americans, they said, “yeah I’ve heard this before.” It’s just they hadn’t implemented what they’d learned yet.

Q: What advice would you give to volunteers who run into cultural differences when working with clients?
A: Get to know your clients personally. Sometimes clients will make a decision, and you’ll make a judgment about it. Once you know your client personally, you might have a better understanding of what’s going on and why they may have done that.

Q: How do you relate to clients with different circumstances from your own?
A: Maybe you don’t relate. Be understanding. Maybe not everyone has the same desires of paying bills on time. Learn to be non-judgmental. Everything’s a process.

Q: How do you learn to be non-judgmental?
A: Patience. Time. After working with enough people, you hear similar stories.

To nominate a Master Financial Education Volunteer for the spotlight, please email Megan Kuhn at

Virginia Cooperative Extension celebrates 100 years, showcases Arlington and Alexandria programs

Volunteers Bill Guey-Lee and Desiree Kaul manage the Master Financial Education display.

Volunteers Bill Guey-Lee and Desiree Kaul manage the Master Financial Education display at Virginia Cooperative Extension’s breakfast showcase at Fairlington Community Center.

Virginia Cooperative Extension‘s breakfast showcase, highlighting Arlington and City of Alexandria programs, made the news.

A few 2014 highlights:

  • Staff and Master Financial Education volunteers started Money Smarts Pay, which combines money management classes with financial coaching to help participants adopt positive financial habits. Extension partnered with Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing and The Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless to offer Money Smarts Pay to affordable housing tenants.
  • Staff and Master Food Volunteers addressed childhood obesity by organizing healthy cooking classes for teens in foster care and low-income teens, and 4-H Food Challenge events.
  • VCE–Arlington, with Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, won the national Extension Housing Outreach Award.

Read the full story here.



Going on an All Cash Diet

By Master Financial Education Volunteer Lenny Gonzalez

Lenny Gonzalez, Master Financial Education Volunteer

Lenny Gonzalez, Master Financial Education Volunteer

In January 2014 we decided we needed to get our spending under control. After talking to friends and family and researching some of their suggestions, we decided to go on the all cash diet.

What is the all cash diet?

It’s a spending tool that asks you to make the bulk (80 percent) of your purchases with cash instead of a credit card or debit card. It’s a great way to understand where you’re money is going each week or month. All you need to get started is:

  • A marker – to write with
  • An envelope – to hold your cash
  • A piece of paper – in each envelope to keep record of the money you spend

To get started we listed the major items we spend money on each month:

  • Groceries
  • Laundry
  • Metro (bus and rail)
  • Gas
  • Pet Supplies
  • Petty Cash

After we listed these categories, we labeled six envelopes and added the amount of money we thought we spend on a monthly basis on each category. Then each time we would buy something (grocery store, pet store) from the category we would take the money out, document the date and total dollar figure, make the purchase and return the extra money to envelope.

Here’s an Example:

Groceries – starting balance is $450 (two people avg. $110 a week).

  • The first week we take out $110.
  • We spend $90 at the store.
  • We add the unspent $20 back to the envelope, leaving us with a balance of $360.

If we continue to save $20 dollars each week we can save a total of $80 a month!

As we save money we simply roll the extra money over to the next month building up a surplus that can help in the event we have an emergency.

The all cash diet is the only diet where gaining is a good thing! Give it a try and watch your money grow!

Volunteer Spotlight: Mike May

Master Financial Education Volunteer Mike May

Master Financial Education Volunteer Mike May

Each month Extension’s financial education program is profiling an outstanding volunteer. To nominate someone, please email Megan Kuhn at

Name: Mike May
Lives: Reston
Works: Financial Advisor for more than 30 years
Mike May has volunteered as a Master Financial Education Volunteer since 2012. This summer he developed a new Extension presentation about the best time to claim social security benefits.

Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A. I spent the first 13 years of my life overseas because my father was in the State Department. I had to learn how to adapt to a bunch of cultures. It was a great, liberal education.

Q. Where was the most interesting place you lived?
A: Pretoria, South Africa. There was a game preserve, and we spent a lot of time going through listening to the roaring lions. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

The main thing I learned from living overseas was how to deal with different types of people. After South Africa I moved to Fiji, Hawaii and Sydney, Australia. If you don’t learn to adapt you won’t do so well.

Q. Why is financial education important?
A. It’s life changing. I’ve had people say to me, “I’ve never had a budget before, but now I feel I’m in control of my finances rather than my finances in control of me.” It was simply because I’d taught them how to set up a budget.

Q: What prompted you to create a new class for us?
A: In the past I directed people to the Social Security Administration’s website because their website is straightforward. But my financial advising clients who are baby boomers kept asking about social security. When I took a class titled Savvy Social Security Planning Strategies for Baby Boomers, I realized there was a lot more to know about social security. I initially went to the class for my work clients, but I want to get this information out to everyone.

Q. Why do you volunteer?
A. I want to get out the information. I teach 10 Baby Steps to Financial Freedom at my church. It’s usually attended by folks in their 20s and 30s who are just getting started in life financially. I just wish when I was that young that I had been told some of the things I’ve been able to tell young people.

The same thing is true for my volunteering with Extension. Folks are looking for help and don t necessarily have the money to pay for a financial advisor. They’re looking for objective, good counsel.

Q. We trained new volunteers in August and September. What advice would you give to our new volunteers?
A: Really pay attention to the instructor and the materials given out. Then do additional research to add to and enhance what the basic materials are. Google budgeting and do some independent study so you feel more confident.

The Beauty of Emergency Funds

By Kate Nixon, Master Financial Education Volunteer

Kate Nixon, Master Financial Education Volunteer

Kate Nixon, Master Financial Education Volunteer

I was interning at a marine biology lab when I first realized I desperately needed an emergency savings fund.

I was having a blast, eating free seafood. But I was just squeaking by financially. I had saved only enough to pay for application fees for graduate school.

Then I had unexpected medical bills. I had no health insurance and no extra savings. Thankfully I was able to save enough to cover the medical costs by the time the bills were due.

The medical tests came back negative, but the health-related relief was soon replaced with money-related worries. In the next few months I had to: pay for the cross-country drive to my new school, set up a new apartment and fix the air conditioning in my car.

After the internship ended, instead of spending my free time with family before leaving for graduate school, I picked up a temp job doing data entry. Typing numbers for 8 hours a day was awful. That summer taught me an important lesson — emergencies are going to happen. I can go into debt to fix them. I can spend a beautiful summer typing numbers in a cubicle all day. Or, I can prepare so I can handle emergencies when they come.

When I finished graduate school I landed a great year-long fellowship. I knew I had an end date to my employment, and I didn’t want to be desperate for money when job hunting. Even though I wasn’t making a lot, my top priority for the year was building an emergency fund.

Because I had a federal fellowship, I was able to put my federal student loan payments on hold for the year while I built up my savings. I channeled the money that would have gone to student loans into a savings account. I was aggressive about saving. I automated the system so that every time I got a paycheck, I automatically put a chunk into my savings. I never looked at it as “spendable” money.

Things were still tight, but I stuck to a budget and managed to save a fair amount — and good thing I did! During that year a few emergencies came up, and I was able to pay for the expenses with my savings rather than put them on my credit card. When my fellowship ended, I was able to pay the bills and take some of the stress off while I was looking for jobs. When I found a new job, I went right back to building up my emergency fund.

I should have 3 months of expenses saved by this December. It will have taken me almost 2 years to save that amount, but it actually wasn’t that bad. By automating my savings and choosing a generous but realistic amount to save each month, I have managed to build an emergency fund without eating ramen.

I have already needed to use my emergency fund. I am grateful to have that money socked away for emergencies, and more importantly, for peace of mind. I used Mint to track my progress, and it is great to get a visual reminder of how I am working toward my goals.

I am looking forward to checking the box of having a completed emergency fund. I know that as unexpected expenses arise, I will have to keep replenishing the account. I will probably have to adjust the amount I save as my expenses and family grow. For now, I am thankful I have a cushion in case I need it. Emergencies happen, but it is a wonderful feeling knowing that I can afford to fix them — a feeling that was well worth saving up 2 years for.

Kate Nixon became a Master Financial Education Volunteer in September 2014. She also writes the Twenties in Your Pocket blog.