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Extension > Source - Fall/Winter 2009 > Weathering tough times

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Weathering tough times

Extension provides tools to help with financial decisions

During the current economic crisis, more people than ever are asking questions: "How do I make ends meet after I get laid off?" "Is there anything we can do to keep our house?" "How can we prepare for economic roller coasters to come?" Using time-tested tools that work in good times and bad, Extension's family resource management programs are helping Minnesotans find answers that will see them through today's troubles and lay a firm foundation for a brighter future. Because Minnesotans know: Tough times don't last, but tough people do.

Facing stress

Extension financial resource management programs help Minnesotans learn how to manage money well, deal with stress and make informed decisions in turbulent times.

When the economy is good, your job is solid, and credit is easy to come by, taking time to develop and practice skills like making a budget, preparing inexpensive meals, and pursuing knowledge that makes you more employable rarely bubbles to the top of the to-do list. But when a family member gets laid off, or the value of your home plummets far below what you paid for it, suddenly every nickel and dime matters. The ability to manage money well, deal with stress, and make good decisions becomes paramount.

No one knows that better than Lynda Hyberger. Hyberger is training coordinator with Workforce Development Inc. (WDI), a nonprofit agency that provides career-planning and skills-training for dislocated workers and others in need in 10 southeastern Minnesota counties. As the economy has tanked, Hyberger finds business is booming.

Hyberger has long turned to Extension for training to help WDI counselors best meet participants' needs. Last February, Hyberger set up training in Rochester with Extension family resource management experts for more than two dozen WDI staff. The training provided them with financial literacy tools and information they could use to help participants as they look for jobs, access assistance programs, manage credit cards, and work to stay afloat in turbulent times. By Hyberger's estimates, 2,000 people have directly or indirectly benefited from that one-day workshop.

Mower County WDI youth counselor Amanda Mathews attended the February training. She and her colleagues found the information an invaluable tool to helping participants get their feet on the ground, she says.

"They gave us a lot of good tools and worksheets we can use with our people," she says. "We know what we want to teach them, but sometimes we just don't have the tools to do it."

Training for professionals is just one dimension of Extension's contributions in tough economic times. From addressing health insurance issues to keeping family relationships strong, Minnesotans can easily access time-tested advice via the Extension website, the news media and community programs across the state.

At the invitation of workforce centers and public libraries, Extension educator Phyllis Onstad earlier this year held workshops in communities throughout southern Minnesota. She addressed strategies for using a spending-and-saving plan, carefully tracking income and prioritizing expenses, and identifying proactive ways to cut personal spending. Participants also identified key community resources they can tap for help and took inventory of the personal strengths and skills that will serve them well as they maneuver the known and unknown financial challenges ahead.

"Extension has been the most terrific resource for working with our low-income people," Hyberger says. "When I needed the resources, I went to University of Minnesota Extension. They have the same mission of self-sufficiency. They are in all my counties. And they know what they're talking about."

For more information on Extension resources to help weather tough economic times, visit www.extension.umn.edu/ToughTimes

Stretching food dollars

Chris Diebele

Chris Deibele, Extension nutrition education assistant

For decades, Extension nutrition programs have helped people feed their families under tough economic circumstances. These days are no exception.

Extension nutrition education assistant Chris Deibele teaches Simply Good Eating, a required class for people receiving cash assistance, at Carver County Work Force Services.

"I try to hit on a few different concepts: diet quality, helping them to make good decisions in food preparation and the foods they buy," she says. She also offers information about food shelves and other resources many of today's tight-times clients never imagined needing.

"My goal is to inspire the participants to ride out these economically hard times by stretching their food dollars and serving nutritious foods at the same time," Deibele says. "By improving their overall diets, they will also be healthier employees when they do return to the workforce."

For more information about Simply Good Eating or other Extension nutrition programs, visit www.extension.umn.edu/Nutrition

Program helps farmers, lenders manage agricultural debt

Debt is part of life for many farmers: It takes money to buy seed, animals and implements. But cash can be tight when net worth is tied up in land. Generally, budgets resolve when crops come in or animals go to market. But what if the economy takes a wrong turn, as it has of late?

Mary Nell Preisler, director of Extension's Farmer-Lender Mediation program, leads a team of mediators who help farmers and lenders negotiate to avoid foreclosure or bankruptcy. The program showed sizeable increases in activity during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009. Extension received an 86 percent increase in the number of requests for mediation, and the total amount of debt involved in mediation was $322 million, more than double the previous year.

Preisler says the Farmer-Lender Mediation program is helping farmers weather the current storm without losing the farm. "It rose out of the farm crisis in the '80s," she says, "and it's still here because it works."

For more information on Extension's Farmer-Lender Mediation program, visit www.extension.umn.edu/Community/Mediation

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