Course offered at several churches helps families with finances

CHAMPAIGN – The unemployed man taking the finance class says he was scared to look at his credit report for 10 years. When he did, it was 28 pages of bad news.

Even the workshop facilitator, who has a master's degree and a job, admits, "Sometimes you don't want to know how bad it is. ... For the first eight years I was married, we had no budget. Money became a tension in our marriage."

Figuring out a budget can take time, lots of number crunching, and it isn't fun, said Scott Olthoff. But several area churches are using a Bible-based budgeting course to help families use budgets to improve their lives.

The classes are called Financial Peace University, developed by Dave Ramsey of Brentwood, Tenn., a former real estate foreclosure expert.

Olthoff is the on-site leader for two dozen people who live at Restoration Urban Ministries in Champaign.

Olthoff shows a 45- to 60-minute taped Financial Peace University show, then leads students in discussion for 13 weeks. Clients get the workbooks free through a grant and are required to take the course. But families who have substantially more income are paying $90 to $250 to take the same classes at area churches and places of business.

Olthoff says many undereducated families living in poverty and educated, upper-middle class families never learned how to budget.

Ramsey, who once had to declare bankruptcy, lectures in all the filmed sessions.

His classes are under way at eight churches in Champaign, Urbana, Monticello and Arcola; and a bank in Tuscola. Champaign Church of Christ starts its Sunday afternoon classes on Feb. 15. Vineyard Fellowship in Urbana started a class Feb. 1 and plans to start another Sept. 1.

Ramsey's Web site, www.dave-ramsey.com, advertises that the average family pays off $5,300 in debt and saves $2,700 while taking his class.

Once he and his wife started budgeting, Olthoff told the restoration class, "I thought I got a raise. It put my mind at ease and got me out of crisis mode."

And, he said, his wife told him she felt freer to spend on clothes or food when she knew how much was budgeted and how much was too much.

Olthoff is a financial counselor for Salt & Light, another ministry for the poor located in Champaign.

"I need this class, and I'm really enjoying it," said Kasimir Faber, the student afraid to look at his credit report. "For us to get any sizable money to save up, we have to go to school. The way the economy is now, you can earn only minimum wage without it, and at that rate, it's hard to save a penny. You go deeper and deeper in debt. Companies are giving people retirement plans now so they can hire new people at half the salary."

"I wish I had taken this class a long time ago," said Tyra Duckworth, a divorced mother of two. "I spent too much. I was living in a place that was too expensive, just because I wanted to be there."

"The basis for all of the teaching is biblically based because Dave Ramsey's organization (The Lampo Group) is a religious company," said John Mills, another area facilitator of the classes. "He has a class specifically for churches with biblical verses to back up principles, but he tailors some classes for workplaces."

"His message is very simple," Mills said. "Real change comes into play when people change their behavior and what they are doing with money; it's not a lot of technical facts and figures."

Ramsey's first lesson talks about setting up an emergency fund of at least $1,000 as soon as possible. He advises the saver to keep it where it is not easy to get.

Your underwear drawer is not that safe place, he points out. It is too easy to hear the "ding dong of the pizza man at the doorbell and say, 'Emergency, emergency.'"

The last Ramsey lesson is about giving.

"It's kind of a bonus lesson," Mills says. "He talks about tithing and giving to church and the reasons for and behind that. He makes an excellent point beyond that – that it's not the giving of money, but act of giving itself that is important in what it does for yourself."

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