Tag Archives: finances

Back-to-School with TexasYouth2Adult

BridgingApps' Amy Fuchs giving a presentation over TexasYouth2Adult

The following blog was written by the Easter Seals Greater Houston’s BridgingApps Team.

As school gets geared back up, you may be like many parents who are looking at the last few years of their teenager’s school years and asking themselves questions such as, “What happens next?” or “Are they prepared for adulthood?”.  If you need guidance getting your teen ready to transition to adulthood, our website, www.TexasYouth2Adult.com, is a great place to start! 

Preview of TexasYouth2Adult Categories

TexasYouth2Adult empowers parents by giving them the questions they did not know they needed to ask in lists organized by age and easy-to-search categories including Medical, Education, Social & Recreational, Legal & Advocacy, Financial Management, Independent Living, and Employment. So for example, for a task categorized as Medical, they know to start with their child’s physician when asking questions.  Because TexasYouth2Adult is organized not only by categories, but also by lists created based on age ranges, parents are able to look ahead so that they can be prepared for discussing transition before the school waits to begin the discussion, which is often right before the student’s 14th birthday.

TexasYouth2Adult also contains a wealth of articles and apps related to transition needs.  For example, maybe you or your adult child needs to notarize a document.  Did you know there is an app that allows you to have certain documents notarized using the camera on your mobile device?  Check out the BridgingApps review of Notarize to learn more.  Maybe your young adult needs assistance reading certain materials for class or for their jobs?  In this case, a text-to-speech app like Speechify could be a great tool for them to have on their smartphone or tablet.

To learn more about helping your loved one move from childhood to adulthood, visit www.TexasYouth2Adult.com and create a free account so that you can access the recommended tasks lists and all of the helpful articles.  For more suggestions on recommended apps or to search for your own apps, visit www.BridgingApps.org.

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“C” Gets an A in Finances

“C” first came to Easter Seals Greater Houston as a participant in a Credit Workshop hosted by Volunteers of America Conroe.  She decided to set up a one-on-one coaching appointment for herself and her husband.  She entered Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Financial Coaching Program with bad credit, $8,000 worth of debt and a family budget that was out of control.  Her goal was to stick to a set monthly budget, reduce her debt and improve her credit score in order to buy her first home.  Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 and campus restrictions, she was unable to finish her nursing program training, however she has diligently worked to communicate with and pay off creditors, reduce debt and spend less money each month.  Her credit score improved from a 520 to a 637, she reduced her debt from $8,000 to $184, and she decreased her monthly expenses by $1,814.  We are so proud of C!

Did you know that anyone can participate in our FREE one-on-one financial counseling or our classes that help you with your budget, money management, raising your credit score and more? Learn more about Easter Seals Greater Houston’s free Financial Education, Homebuyer Education Services & Public Benefits Programs today!

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Making Houses Homes

Are you a First Time Home Buyer ready to purchase your new home?  If so, congratulations, you have made the first step by reading this blog. My name is Jenny Lopez-Martinez and I am a Financial and Housing Coach for Easter Seals Greater Houston. I would like to invite you to our virtual Homebuyers Education Classes where you will learn the tools needed to become a homeowner.  We will discuss various ways to budget; every participant will receive a budget sheet at the end of session 1. The budget sheet is a tool used to help participants create and reach their financial goal. The class will also discuss the importance of having a savings especially if you are buying a home. The class will introduce the steps on how to pull your credit report, review your credit report and rebuild your credit. We will also review the mortgage loans products, the down payment assistance programs, and every participant will receive additional resources from Freddie Mac.  This is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approve course and open to anyone who is ready to buy their first home. Since the classes are virtual, we are providing the classes in session 1 and session 2. At the end of session 2 or once both classes are completed, you will receive a certificate for your participation. We welcome you to learn more about and participate in our upcoming Homebuyer Education Classes.

Learn more about Easter Seals Greater Houston’s free Financial Education, Homebuyer Education Services & Public Benefits Programs today!

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THRIVE-ing in 2021

Is one of your goals for 2021 to budget or to save money? Easter Seals Greater Houston’s THRIVE team is launching an online Zoom financial education class focusing on budgeting and food. In this class we will discuss a wide range of tips and tricks on how to save money at the grocery store including: why creating a budget is important; how to easily work making a grocery list, checking sale ads and coupons to save money into your life; how to navigate grocery store apps; and how you can implement these cash saving tips in your life.

Check out some of the tips we have for saving money! Join our class and get the in depth knowledge by emailing JGaehring@eastersealshouston.org today.

  • Did you know that there are sale cycles on products?
  • Being aware of when and what goes on sale and combining coupons is the secret extreme couponers use
  • Did you know there’s a way to get a Sunday paper for only a $1.00?
  • Did you know there are now manufacture digital coupons or that some grocery stores will match their competitors pricing?
  • Did you know there are certain tricks you can combine to save the most money?
  • Did you know that there are websites that do all the work for you and recommend where to go for best sale and coupon combinations?

We will be going over how to use grocery store apps, sale ads and coupons to your advantage and how planning ahead can save you money. Learn the secrets and tips to save money on your grocery store trips. Please contact Jessika Gaehring at Jgaehring@eastersealshouston.org if you are interested in this class.

Our THRIVE Program aims to help Veterans, those with disabilities, and their caregivers learn how to budget, one-on-one financial coaching, home buyers education classes and help finding a job.

To learn more about Easter Seals Greater Houston programs please contact

Homebuyers Education Classes & One-on-One Financial Coaching – Jenny Lopez-Martinez at JLopez@eastersealshouston.org

One-on-One Financial Coaching and Financial Classes – Jessika Gaehring at Jgaehring@eastersealshouston.org

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Supporting Our Troops Here at Home

My name is Bryan Cream and I am a 100% Disabled Veteran of the U.S Army. I wanted to write and thank Easter Seals Greater Houston and all of their donors that help people like me. I know it’s cliché, but just saying thank you is not even close to being adequate. 

During the last 6 months my family has experienced several high stress situations: My father had a heart attack that they described as a “widow maker”; my mother hasn’t been able to walk for 6 months and through several doctors and tests it was discovered she had a mass on her spine and brain; my brother was diagnosed with Coronavirus and was in the hospital for over a week; my wife (who was told she was not going to be able to have children) found out she was pregnant (currently 17 weeks) and that is a huge blessing but also comes with many stresses; and my wife has lost many hours of work as well as being out of work for two weeks waiting for COVID-19 results.

I say all of this because I want to point out what Easter Seals Greater Houston and donors like you have helped me through. The financial assistance has allowed us to pay our mortgage and feel secure, even with everything happening around us. For a long time I have only seen the present and my circumstances for what they are. I still am reminded of the stress every day, but Easter Seals and donors like you have given me and my family a glimpse to a bright future. 

On top of everything else, I have been lucky enough to be able to receive training to train my dog Lucie to be a Service Dog. The training and support from Jennifer Wright has been nothing less than a blessing to my family and me. I have never seen anyone or any organization go to the lengths of helping someone the way Easter Seals and Dr. Wright have. I hope everyone that donates to Easter Seals realizes the impact they are having on individuals’ lives. It’s still an ongoing battle, but with all the support I know I will be able to get through it and one day be able to give back the way you do.

Thank you!

Bryan Cream

Easter Seals Greater Houston is proud to provide Service Members, Veterans and Military-Veterans with a wide variety of services including mental health, service dogs, financial coaching and more. Click here to support these crucial services.

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Earning a Home Sweet Home

Clients attending Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Homebuyer Education Classes often ask what is the key to success in purchasing a home.  As part of our curriculum, we go over the importance of credit, manageable debt, and household assets, but perhaps the answer is much more simple – PERSEVERANCE!!!

HOYO success storyA few weeks ago, a single mother of six young daughters purchased a home in Montgomery County – her first home- after over a year and a half of working hard to improve her credit, paying down her debts, and increasing assets.  This hardworking mother, Ashlee, took on a second job as a home health professional and began building up a savings account towards a down payment.  On April 30, at 5:00 pm, she signed the closing disclosure, collected her keys, and walked out of closing as a homeowner.  At times, her goal had seemed impossible, but she persevered and now she lives down the street from one of her clients and they are now making this house their HOME.

Easter Seals Greater Houston offers Credit Boot Camp, Homebuyer Education Classes, Individual Financial Coaching and more!

Katy Thorstenberg, Home of Your Own Montgomery County Home Fund Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Home Sweet Homeownership

If the headlines are to be believed, it’s been a tough few years for the first-time homebuyer.  Reports circulate of homes listed in the morning and under contract by the evening.  Interest rates are inching up, credit scores are tightening, and those pesky student loans mixed in with car loans and credit card debt are creating a debt-burdened buyer with little wiggle room to take on an additional mortgage.

Yet despite the unfriendly market, attendees of our Down Payment Assistance Workshop given by Easter Seals Greater Houston in The Woodlands, continue to realize their homeownership goals. As class settles in Saturday mornings, and we begin to discuss available down payment assistance programs, the conversation around the table always seem to return to two main concerns:  where am I going to get the money for down payment, and how do I dare add a mortgage payment to my already hefty debt load.

Bailey family 005

I’m happy to say that the first question has a simple answer.  There are a variety of down payment programs designed for the homebuyer lacking the out-of-pocket funds for a home purchase which may be combined with a number of great mortgage loan products.

To the second question, there is no simple answer.  Creating a realistic budget which controls spending and reduces debt continues to be the subject of scrutiny from social scientists to behavioral economists, with agreement as to the need, but little consensus as to what constitutes a successful plan.

In our present-day digital world, the proliferation of budgeting and spending apps designed for your mobile device of choice has been overwhelming.  Mint.com, the  ‘Cadillac’ of apps, with a reported 20 million users to date, set the standard in app technology for linking all financial accounts, and with one stroke, allowed a user to monitor the flow of dollars in, dollars out.

Pocketsmith.com, referred to as a crystal ball for your bank accounts, generates what ifs scenarios through delightful images of your future if you stick to your budget –  key word here being if.

hoyo2

YNAB.com, You Need a Budget app, preaches zero sum game approach, with every dollar assigned a ‘job’.  As the app says, you are in effect, the ‘maestro’ in charge of sending every dollar to its pre-determined role; i.e., savings, vacation, credit card debt, etc., before buying that impulse item.  The thinking here is that if every dollar coming in is already pledged to some expenditure, then you are less prone to splurge on that fun spur of the moment experience not included in your master plan.

As software designers have become more bold, recent apps have devised more and more ingenious ways to move dollars from the ‘to be spent’ column to savings.  For example, Acorns.com focuses on your pennies by rounding up your expenses to the next dollar and investing in a pre-determined investment portfolio.

Digit.com app takes an even bolder approach to policing your disposable income by sifting out anywhere from $5 to $50 of your fun money and stashing it safely away in a savings account.  Their website states that this dollar round-up is accomplished so surreptitiously, that “you should never notice its missing”.   (Somehow, I think I would notice!)

Yet despite all these sophisticated apps, we still struggle to control our spending.  For most of us, the recommended emergency fund of 3-6 months of living expenses remains a pipedream, and paycheck to paycheck living is far too common.

Maybe the problem is that budgeting apps have not gone far enough in making spending so unpleasant, that we are forced to become a nation of savers. If we look outside the app world of money management, you find some pretty extreme versions of self-help strategies conceived to reach your goals.

For those people who renew their New Year’s pledge every year to exercise on a regular basis, Equinox, a health club chain, has designed a chatbot that reaches out to members weekly to “encourage” them to stay on track with their exercise regime. (I think the word “encourage” here could be a euphemism for nag or hassle.)hoyo-staff-and-family-close-up

For those people who struggle to wake up mornings, there is a very annoying alarm clock called Clocky on the market which doesn’t just beep you awake, but actually jumps off your bedside table and runs off to the far corners of your room.  Needless to say, if you want to turn off Clocky’s beep, you have to get out of bed and chase it around the room. You would start your day on schedule, but probably not in a very good mood – always trade-offs!  Do we really want or need to design budgeting apps with similarly irritating functions to help us reach our financial goals?

I suggest that there are other approaches to achieving a financial stability that opens the door to homeownership.  Easter Seals Greater Houston offers a variety of classes focused on credit building and debt reduction through our HUD-certified Homebuyer Education Classes.  As a great first step towards homeownership, our Down Payment Assistance Workshop covers a range of assistance programs, mortgage products, and income/debt ratios review in determining how much house you can afford.  The combination of peer-support group classes and one-on-one counseling is invaluable in helping you create a realistic action plan that moves you forward to your goals.

The proper money management app can serve as a great budgeting tool for individuals working towards specific financial goals, but are only part of the equation.  The Easter Seals housing staff is here to provide you with comprehensive counseling services to ensure that your financial plan will take you where you want to go.

Katy Thorstenberg, Housing Program Manager, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Financial Literacy Pays Off

It is Saturday, not yet 9—an early morning in The Woodlands with the promise of heat and humidity as people begin to arrive for the monthly Easter Seals Greater Houston‘s Homebuyer and Financial Literacy class/Down Payment assistance workshop. Zip codes filling up the sign-in sheets speak of distance traveled that morning:  Harris, Ft. Bend, Brazoria, Waller, Walker Galveston, and  Chambers.  They come from neighborhoods from rural to urban, big city and small town, over a multi-county stretch.  They represent many different income, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds, but all with the same purpose – qualifying for the down payment assistance program that will allow them to purchase a home.

Over coffee and doughnuts, the individual hoyo1stories take shape.  A widowed grandmother talks about the apartment complex where she has lived comfortably for the last 15 years but has struggled to pay the rapidly increasing rent over the last few years.  Living on a fixed income with little assets, meeting her monthly rent payments had become unsustainable, and homeownership seemed to be a pipe dream without some kind of assistance.

A young couple with 2 young children spoke of their need for space, a backyard, and safe sidewalks where their kids could bike to neighbors or area parks.

One single Mom of 2 children, who had survived on rental assistance through the county, proudly talked of her now stable job with the expectation of finally owning her own home close to her children’s school.  Without down payment assistance that dream of homeownership would remain just that – a dream, as even with good credit and little debt, qualifying for a home she could afford on her income would be impossible without some down payment assistance.

hoyo-staff-and-family-close-upOver the course of the morning, all the local, state and federal down payment assistance programs were reviewed.  Mortgage guidelines were discussed and the steps towards homeownership were outlined.  Each of these families left class that day with a plan before them, and some months later, all are now proud property owners of a home of their choice.

Homeownership is not for everyone, nor is it something that happens over night; however, with the help of the Easter Seals Greater Houston housing team, commitment to your financial goals, and perseverance, it is attainable.

Whether this is your first home or a move back into homeownership after years of renting, the homebuyer class/ Down Payment assistance workshop is a great first step towards one of the most important purchases of your life.

For more information on Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Homebuyer/Down Payment Assistance workshops or #BankOn, email: kthorstenberg@eastersealshouston.org.

Katy Thorstenberg, Housing Initiative, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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