One On One

Mary Ellen Pellegrini

CWLA Press Author

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What is your professional background? How did your work influence your book, Managing Money: Spending and Saving Wisely?

Ihave a bachelor's degree in secondary education and a master's degree in child development and family relationships. After I got my master's degree, I taught parenting classes in a financial literacy and GED program and also in a transitional living program for homeless women and children.

What I found when I was teaching was that the names and faces changed, but the stories were essentially the same. The lives of the people in my classes were frequently touched by abuse, addiction, a lack of education, or a lack of role models--all the things that tend to contribute to a cycle of poverty. I found that there weren't a lot of materials out there that got as basic as my students needed. Their education and reading levels were limited, and so many of the financial planning materials I found assumed that readers had good math skills and a basic knowledge of budgeting.

As a result of this, I ended up making up a lot of my own materials as a teacher. One thing led to another, and that led to the book. I wanted to create a book that was the simplest, most basic resource people managing money for the first time could have. But at the same time, I wanted to create something that wasn't condescending--something that res-pected the readers and what they were trying to do. I set up the book in a simple, step-by-step format so that readers could have little successes along the way.

Why did you feel it was important to write this book?

I wanted to create an awareness of budgeting and a sense of empowerment regarding finances. So many of the women I worked with, when there was a need for food or a repair, would think, 'Who can fix this for me?' I wanted to empower them to say, 'How can I do this myself?' I wanted to show readers how to put themselves in the position where they had resources available to take care of their own needs.

Professionals who use Managing Money tell me that it's very practical, it's relevant, and it makes sense. It's a tool that classroom teachers can use to deliver instruction and something that students can connect with immediately. The book is a tangible resource that individuals can take with them everywhere. They can bring it to the grocery store and look at their budget as they're shopping. They can use the book to refresh their memory in their everyday life--it reinforces what goes on inside the classroom.

How did you develop the format of the book, which includes charts and chapter quizzes?

It was a work in progress. I would bring tools into my classroom, and we'd fill out the spending chart or the monthly budget worksheet. After we did each individual piece in class, I would look at the bugs--what worked and what didn't work--and then fine-tune it and put it in the book.

I'm a firm believer in putting things down on paper, especially with a skill that you're not familiar with. You've got all this new information in your head, all these numbers floating around. To take that and put that down on paper gives you a clearer picture of what you're learning. In a budget where you have columns for income and expenses, it's black on white as to how much money you have coming in and how many expenses you have. How close are you to balancing those two? Where do you need to make changes and adjustments?

The very first chart in the book, where readers are tracking their expenses, is a real eye-opener for most people. When they see how much a daily soda from the vending machine adds up to over time, for example, it really gets through. What I like about the quizzes at the end of each chapter is that they give the reader a chance to review the information, see how well they understand it, and go back and study what they didn't understand. Readers have to make sure they have a good understanding of Chapter One--on recognizing wants and needs--before they can go to Chapter Two and set up a budget. So the tests make sure that readers understand one set of skills before moving onto the next set.

Who can benefit most from understanding their finances?

Everyone needs a basic understanding of his or her finances. Anybody who's got limited resources, or limited experience managing money, can benefit from learning how to budget. When you've got issues with money, it brings so much stress into your life. When you're dealing with worrying about getting food or being evicted from your apartment or having the water turned off, you can't focus on much else.

Teens aging out of foster care, homeless men and women, parents of young children, and women who have recently left abusive relationships might find the book particularly helpful. It gives them the skills and resources they need to be independent.

I've found that when people finally sit down and come up with a workable budget, they feel like so much weight has been lifted from their shoulders. When you remove that stress, all of the sudden people have more energy and time to focus on getting an education, training for a better job, taking better care of their children. There's just such a ripple effect--if you can remove financial stress, you can improve so many other areas of life.

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