Graduates of Financial Management Program Often Experience Improved Health

June 22, 2018, 6 a.m. ·

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Since 2009, Creighton University’s Financial Success Program has helped promote behavioral change through financial education with potential health benefits for 800 low-income single mothers in the Omaha-metro area.

The link between financial education and physical and mental health may seem obvious to some, but for those dealing with financial worries, messages about getting healthy may not be a priority.

A program aimed at low-income single mothers who are at a greater risk for cardiovascular and chronic disease because of lifestyle and stress often brought on by poverty.

For Tamicka Franklin, there was a time when life seemed stacked against her. She had a series of setbacks: Creditors took her car, she almost fell victim to a financial scam and she was way behind on her rent.

The single mother of two says she owed a lot of money and had no idea who could help her. She felt lost. She felt stressed.

“I’m still struggling. I’m still trying to get by,” Franklin said. “I have my moments, but now I have someone, my coach, to call on.”

The certified nursing assistant signed up for a unique program which offers nine weekly classes plus two years of one-on-one financial coaching.

Julie Kalkowski helped launch the Financial Hope Collaborative in the Heider College of Business at Creighton University. (Photo courtesy of Creighton University)

Julie Kalkowski, with Creighton’s Heider College of Business, says single female families with a median income of about $35,000 represent 13 percent or 16.4 million U.S. households.

Since the Financial Success Program launched in 2009, over 800 women have enrolled. She says 48 percent of those lost weight, and reduced their risk of developing diabetes while improving their blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

When their quality of life improves, Kalkowski says these women can make better decisions, become better parents and co-workers, and ultimately, lead healthier lives.

“I think this program helps women see that they have options and they have choices,” Kalkowski said. “I think it gives women a sense of control so the wolf is not at their door anymore. And when the wolf is not at your door, you can think more clearly and you’re not always kind of panicky.”

And, she added, when you’re not so worried about paying the bills, other improvements can occur.

Student Donna Newell stands with Financial Success Program director Tamicka Bradley at the 75 North Building in Omaha. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News).

“Once they learn how to manage their money better, a lot of the other stresses go away,” Kalkowski said. “So they start sleeping better at night; a lot of them go back to school or get more job training; they get promotions.”

Dulce Sherman of OneWorld Health Center in Omaha, says her organization has had 20 employees participate in the Financial Success program. One woman even succeeded in becoming debt-free.

“We’ve seen high accountability in respect to work, attendance, financial responsibility as well as health awareness,” Sherman said.

Jill Heggen, Communications director for the Women’s Fund of Omaha, said the connection between financial literacy and health outcomes seems strong when all the factors are examined.

“It’s all connected, right? If you are able to access healthy food, you have a safe home, if you can access the healthcare when you need it and its preventative rather than reactive, if you know your child is being taken care of when you’re at work, all of these things are interconnected,” Haggen said.

Lisa and Landen Abraham cuddle before the March graduation ceremony of Creighton's Financial Success Progam. Lisa was the graduation guest speaker. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News).

“So, having that stability is the basis of being able to be successful and healthy in all the areas of your life,” Heggen said.

Tamicka Bradley was one of the program’s early graduates; now she’s program supervisor. She says mismanaged finances are at the root of most problems today:

“Usually, that’s what they’re worried about,” Bradley said. “You’re supposed to be at work, but you’re taking care of someone else, but you’re trying to think: What can I sell to pay the bill? Am I gonna have lights on when I get home? Who can I call? Who can help me? So you’re not doing your job as well as you could.”

Bradley says students learn how to track their own expenses by keeping sales receipts and reviewing how much they spend each week.

By examining their spending habits, Kalkowski says, the women are often shocked to learn how much they actually squander on certain items—like fast food.

“The number one place their disposable income was going was fast food,” Kalkowski said. “So they realized when they looked at their receipts, “Dang, I spent $37 at Burger King and $14 at McDonald’s—that’s over $50. I can’t do that. “

New graduate Lisa Abraham says eating a healthy meal before class once a week and having free childcare were major incentives. Abraham says she’s grateful for the chance to reset her priorities:

Energetic teachers and coaches, Karen Watson, Tamicka Bradley, and Maureen Holstein, dance before the last class of the Financial Success Program's spring session. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News).

“It’s not necessarily that I have to be financially stable, I have a lot of hurdles still to come by, but I feel like I have a better financial mindset. So I know the purchases that are necessary and unnecessary,” Abraham said. “What can wait and what has to be right now. That was a huge thing that I wasn’t doing.”

Deb Warneke has been a financial coach for seven years. With degrees in accounting and management, and as a property owner and landlord, she offers practical advice using small, actionable steps.

But, Warneke says, the hard work actually begins after graduation:

“I’m happy that they made it to all the classes and they’ve learned a bunch of stuff, but now we have to go out and we have to use that information that we’ve tried to teach them and to start focusing on it,” she said.

In order to help one woman pay off a car loan and two credit cards, while working at a Council Bluffs casino and struggling with multiple sclerosis, Warneke says she used an unconventional tactic, one that had her using her refrigerator not for food, but for a financial lesson:

Financial Success program supervisor Tamicka Bradley (center) stands with Andrea Montana, Lois Russell, (left) and Lorraine Jackson, Tracey Wanek (right) before the last class of the spring session. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News).

“We froze her credit cards in the freezer: we didn’t destroy them – life happens and there can be an emergency – but, if you wait for that credit card to unthaw, you can stop and think, you can talk to your coach, you can look at your resources, and then you can decide,” Warneke said.

Warneke says helping these women improve their lives inspires her personally.

“But when I see these girls in the same situation I was in and I see them try to improve their lives and turn themselves around a lot faster than I did, it’s so rewarding to see that happen,” Warneke said.

Recent graduate Tamicka Franklin, says she hopes the rewards will come her way some day. She has faced many challenges -- especially when bills were due-- but survived by calling her coach frequently and listening to her kids:

“If I didn’t get up and do nothing, then where are they going to be? They will think, ‘Mama, you failed, then I’m going to fail.’ I just looked at them and they gave me the encouragement to just get up and keep going,” she said.

And, keep going means making ends meet, lowering stress, living a healthier lifestyle, and hopefully, enjoying life more.