Starting a Savings Program at Mujeres Cambia

Paul Talks about Investing

Several months ago we started a social loan fund at Mujeres Cambia. The idea behind the fund is that if a member has an emergency they can ask for a loan from this fund. What we didn’t realize in the beginning was how popular this loan fund would be. One member asked for a loan for $10 for a birthday cake for her son. Another asked for a loan to buy prescription glasses for her daughter. It didn’t make sense, especially because we saw the group bringing in money. In addition, there were more people asking for loans than we had available. Bringing in more money wasn’t enough if the women didn’t have a savings plan.

So, we added a Savings Program to the financial literacy component of the group. In the past few months we have helped members open up personal bank accounts at a local bank. Of the 18 members in the group, 2 had accounts when we started while the remaining 16 had never had a bank account before. So far, we have opened 12 new accounts and counting! The process is actually rather complex and is further complicated by the fact that some women in the group share the exact same name as other women, meaning that they have to prove their identity even further at the main bank branch in the city before they will be approved. The next step is how to work with new account holders so that this tool can be helpful in their lives.

Starting in 2013, we will work with the group to maintain financial diaries in order to set personal financial savings goals. A financial diary can be helpful because it helps identify what you spend on an average month and what are the emergencies that put a strain on your regular monthly budget. The next step is to use this information to set personal goals for each member that will prepare them for the financial strain of a death in the family or a medical emergency.

Recently, I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast entitled, “Could a Lottery be the Answer to America’s Poor Savings Rate“. The podcast investigates the success of several savings programs that incorporate a lottery component.

Melissa Kearney, an economist from the University of Maryland made an interesting point about gambling in America. She said,

So we know Americans like gambling. They always have, the majority of them do it, and they’re going to keep doing it. And so what we do is take seriously the idea that people want some small chance of winning a large sum of money…So a lot of Americans think the lottery is their only chance at winning big sums of money, why don’t we take that appetite for gambling, for a product like this and attach it to a savings vehicle that offers some positive return? It’s a win-win situation.

Prior to listening to this podcast, we had been thinking about how we could encourage members to participate in the Savings Program. The idea of a raffle appealed to us, but was this the right approach? Hearing the podcast and talking to members confirmed our suspicions. The women wanted to save but they just needed the tools and an extra incentive. We will start the monthly raffle in February. To participate, each member will bring her end-of-the-month bank statement in to compare against her personal monthly savings goal. If she has made her monthly goal she will receive a raffle ticket for the chance to win a prize. First prize in February is an iron.

Best of luck, ladies!

Paul

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