Women In Sustainable Employment – or, as we call it, WISE – is a program designed to help single female heads of households find more sustainable employment to support their families.

 A Program To Help Single Moms Get Higher Paying Jobs. The class has five elements – financial wellness, budgeting, expense tracking, debt (payday loans), and emergency savings.

The program introduces women to career fields that have strong earning potential in the state of Ohio. Jobs in manufacturing and technology are generally male-dominated, and these women are being introduced to them for the first time – and to the potential of increased earning power.

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It’s typical for a woman to get a job during the five weeks she spends in class, and to start receiving a larger paycheck than she is accustomed. As a result of the extra money the women would be earning, WISE decided to add a financial component to the class.

The class has five elements – financial wellness, budgeting, expense tracking, debt (payday loans), and emergency savings.

There have been three cohorts of women who have received the training with the financial component, and they all had their own share of financial struggles and challenges.

In the second cohort, we had two women who were homeless and looking for housing for themselves and a child.

Some of these women have been raising children on minimum wage. Ten percent of them have done so without as much as a GED.

Once they go through the program and accept a higher-paying job, they are faced with the challenge of managing more money.

Do they buy the things that they have gone so long without, but desperately wanted? Or do they save money for the emergencies that are bound to happen?

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Typically, most of these women are in a permanent crisis mode. They are used to reacting to a crisis only when it presents itself, and not to planning for it in advance.

The lesson that needed to be taught in class was to not wait and hope that nothing bad will happen, but instead to anticipate that something will indeed eventually happen, and then to plan for it.

Emergencies happen to all of us. Those who have money saved up in an emergency fund have done so because they know they will need it. In the WISE classes, we spend about 80 percent of the time teaching, discussing, and acting out habit change.

These women do expense tracking sheets every week to see where they spend their money for knowledge purposes. This activity also allows us to look for areas that need changes and encourage them to build new habits.

One woman would come to class three times a week with a 32-ounce soda that she would buy from the gas station. This soda would cost her 99 cents. We knew for certain that she was spending at least $15 a month on these sodas. To our surprise, she admitted that she bought one almost every day – sometimes twice. A fellow classmate asked her why she doesn’t buy two cases for $6 to $7 instead of spending $30.

Her response? “I like the way I feel walking into the gas station to buy it. I feel like it makes me look in control of my life.”

That raised a great question for these women: “How many of us spend money on things based on how it makes us feel, or how we think it makes us look to others?”

To encourage habit change, the women are offered a reward (typically a gas card or grocery store gift card) if they make a change and are able to save the difference.

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Recently at the local grocery store, I ran into a woman from a cohort we did a year ago. She had the biggest smile on her face and said, “I’ve been working here for three months, and I’ve already saved $250 because of what you taught me.”

However, she did not feel like it was a lot. I reassured her that if she needed a new tire or battery for her car – or had to reserve a flight because of an untimely death in her family – that $250 would make a world of difference.

Hopefully, she learned to look at her own savings with more respect. Nothing is small change when it comes to making fundamental shifts in your attitude towards money.