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March 2009

Good Cents provides change to tackle debt

Completing Wesley Community Action’s Good Cents programme has had many benefits for ‘Kay’.

The IRD has reassessed her $2,000 debt to them, she has managed to repay debts to two loan companies that were costing her $110 per week, and above all she has regained confidence in herself.

Wesley’s Porirua team-leader Makerita Makapelu says life had not been easy for Kay. She left home at 14 and lived with her sister.

By 18 she was pregnant and living on the benefit. Sharing accommodation often meant loaning money to help friends and family. Kay developed a habit of loaning and borrowing without being fully aware of the consequences.

Over the years Kay approached Wesley Community Action in Porirua on several occasions for counselling or food bank assistance. In 2009, she was asked if she would like to participate in the Good Cents education and budgeting programme, and she took the opportunity.

One of the first exercises she completed was to record every item she was spending money on for a whole week. She was amazed at the result. She was borrowing money to spend on things like video games for her oldest son, and her loans were costing her $202 per week.

Part of the Good Cents programme involves learning to communicate and to talk about the issues of debt and negotiate affordable payments.

"Good Cents, helped to put me in charge of my money, so it was me making the decisions, not someone else," Kay says.

As a result, she has found confidence and has regular work in a local supermarket. Her family is eating cheaper more healthy food, and life is good. Looking ahead, her first priority is to pay off her remaining loan, and then she plans to save enough to take her family on holiday.

Good Cents is an eight-week group programme that developed out of the close relationships Wesley Community Action has with the people who use its food bank.

Makerita says many families are trapped in a debt cycle that was bleeding their limited wealth out of their community.

"As we looked into this cycle we found a complex system that perpetuates poverty and hardship. This includes exorbitant rates of interest charged by some finance companies which are the lenders of last resort, a silence around debt in the community, and institutions that give people limited options," Makerita says.

Good Cents works alongside people with common experiences and stories around indebtedness and supports them on their journey to a better financial future. The emphasis is on creating a safe space for people to talk about their situation and lifting some taboos, and finding creative ways to build up and redefine the wealth of families and communities.

Good Cents is creating a network of people and groups with skills and knowledge to help make real change.

"We have started a number of small initiatives. Along with forming education and support groups, these include working with banks to explore debt consolidation and partnering with Agape Budgeting Service to provide budgeting and advocacy," Makerita says.

"Conversations with Pacific communities and church groups are beginning to uncover possibilities that exist for these communities to catch hold of a vision that would see people find solutions by building on their existing cultural and collective resources.

"We’re exploring ways to link up financial education with colleges and communities. Planning is well underway for a Porirua-wide event to explore more collective solutions to indebtedness."

Wesley Community Action thanks the Todd Foundation for investing in the Good Cents idea and allowing space for solutions to emerge from the community rather than imposing another service on them.