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Centsible Families: A comprehensive approach to financial literacy and asset building

Matthew Manning, HomeOwnership Center Director, AHEAD, Inc.

Challenge: Coös County, the most northern and rural county in New Hampshire, leads the state in financial stress indicators such as liquid asset poverty, asset poverty and unbanked citizens and has the second highest rate of underbanked citizens in the state. These trends do not stimulate healthy family relationships or financial stability and ultimately lead to diminished financial independence for individuals and families. As community leaders in northern New Hampshire, AHEAD has a responsibility to help build an infrastructure that supports financial literacy programs, economic inclusion, college aspirations and asset building in order to face the challenges of generational poverty and the trend of young families leaving the area in search of opportunity.

Three boys and one girl stand in front of a yellow table

In November 2015, after years of research and developing and testing curriculum, AHEAD and our partners, The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and Passumpsic Savings Bank, successfully launched the Centsible Families initiative in two Coös County elementary schools. This initiative takes a comprehensive approach to financial stability to ensure the next generation is equipped to enter an increasingly complex economic environment and is empowered to achieve their educational goals after graduation.

The first phase of the Centsible Families public/private collaboration brings financial education to Coös County students in grades one through three. AHEAD staff works with classroom teachers to deliver a six-week schedule of once-a-week, forty-five minute lessons in the classroom. The modules covered include recognizing and counting money; earning and value of money; wants vs. needs; checkbook, debit cards and bills; setting goals and charitable giving; savings vs. spending and asset building. To date, 260 students have received 5.5 hours of financial education.

Phase two is an evening workshop for parents and children entitled "Centsible Families." The goal of the workshop is to bring children and their parents together to discuss what the children have learned and to play games based on the covered material. We provide dinner for the families and, to add to the fun, we give out prizes throughout the night. We want parents to feel confident in their ability to continue the conversation at home and also, if they see fit, to contact AHEAD to discuss building their own financial success plan.

A white woman stands next to a white girl in a classroomThe third phase of Centsible Families includes a partnership with Passumpsic Savings Bank to provide Coös County students, grades one through three, a custodial savings account with the hope that it will be used for post-secondary education. Passumpsic Savings Bank provides the initial $25 deposit into the account and if the student receives free or reduced lunch, an additional $10. A third deposit of $25 is provided if the children and their family attend the multi-generational workshop. AHEAD provides ongoing "Savings Deposit Days" each month that school is in session for children to make deposits to their accounts. Each time students make a deposit they get to pick a prize from the "One Time" prize bucket. When a student makes their fifth deposit, they can pick a prize from the "Five Time" prize bucket and start the count back at one or they can hold off and make five more deposits and at that time select a prize from the coveted "Ten Time" bucket. This helps students understand the concept of delayed gratification and goal setting. Additionally, all students who make regular deposits over the course of two months will have their name placed in a raffle. The winner receives a sweatshirt from a local public university.

At the first four participating schools, 62 families have returned the required paperwork to have their children's savings account opened, 37students are saving on a regular basis and a total of $2,300 has been deposited into accounts.

We are still in the early days of the program and are continuing to develop it. We have quickly learned that collaboration is powerful. We have built a successful program through partnership with public education, a private foundation and a private banking partner. This collaborative effort is committed to providing significant resources to fund the children’s savings accounts and with AHEAD providing the coordination and financial education in the classroom, we hope to continue this program long into the future.

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