Amber smiles remembering the moment she found out she would finally be a homeowner.
“I just started balling, and I don’t cry very easily,” said Amber. “I told my family ‘I got approved!’ and everybody started cheering.”
At the time, Amber shared a two bedroom apartment with her parents and three young son. As the family’s primary income-earner, finances were often tight.
“Every month I had to decide, okay, do I pay my full rent, do I buy groceries, or do I repair my car? It was extremely stressful,” recalls Amber.
More than 42% of households in Wisconsin are on the edge of financial insecurity. ALICE families (an acronym that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) are working, but struggle to afford the basics of housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation.
“People in the ALICE threshold hold jobs vital to our communities' success, like caregivers, teachers, and office assistants,” says Krystina Kohler, Financial Stability Portfolio Manager at United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County. “Despite this, many families struggle to make ends meet and lack the assets and savings to weather the storm if a financial emergency hits.”
A friend recommended Amber get in touch with Gina Sanchez of La Casa de Esperanza, a Waukesha social service agency that provides United Way-funded financial stability coaching.
“The first thing Gina said to me was ‘stop taking payday loans!’” says Amber. “From there, we looked at my income and my bills and she helped me fill out a budgeting sheet.”
Over the next few years, Amber applied the tips she learned at La Casa and soon caught up on her bills. She was also able to make her monthly budget stretch a bit farther. “I was never perfect, but things were better than before,” said Amber.
In 2015, a friend told Amber that Habitat for Humanity was going to be building homes in the Waukesha and suggested she apply. “Habitat looked at my financial situation,” recalls Amber, “and they told me I wasn’t quite ready to be a homeowner. It was at that moment that I became determined to reach that goal of owning a home.”
Amber realized she would need to start looking at her finances differently and develop a new budget that would allow her to realize her dream.
Amber called Gina and went back to La Casa. “I knew that Gina would understand what I needed to do to buy my own home,” says Amber.
Of those that participated in United Way-funded financial literacy programs, 90% put money into a checking or savings account, and 97% learned problem-solving skills that would help them meet their goals. In 2015, over 500 people were helped through United Way-funded financial literacy and financial security programs.
Amber started working at paying off old debt, and signed up for La Casa’s “Make Your Money Talk” course. “It was really informative,” reflects Amber, “I learned new budgeting tips, how to track and improve my credit score, and how to properly use credit cards.”
After a few months of careful budgeting and saving, Amber and her family were approved to receive a Habitat for Humanity home. The whole family, along with volunteers, helped build the house over the summer and into the fall.
Amber and her family moved into their new home in January of 2016. She recalls the first day as “exciting, but odd. I had lived in my apartment for almost 10 years, raised all of my kids there…and all of a sudden we had all this room!”
While her youngest son, Gabriel, loves the backyard, Amber’s favorite thing about her new home is “the freedom to know this home is ours -- it belongs to our family and we did it together.”
Read more stories