When Prepare + Prosper asked me to write an open letter to my financial coach, Claire, I didn’t hesitate. She has changed my life. Before I share the letter, I’d like to tell you my story, what led me to volunteer as a tax preparer, and later join Money Mentors.

As the oldest of four children in a family where money was tight, I started working and opening up credit cards at an early age.

I needed to help buy gas and groceries for our family to get by month to month. I remember working overtime and on holidays so that my family would have a little bit of spending money every now and then.

Those working and spending habits did not go away once I got into college. Although I worked throughout college and skipped trips home for holidays to save money, it wasn’t enough. My credit card debt continued to climb higher, even after my college graduation (the first in the family!), and interest continued to gain.

During and after college, I continued to feel the burden of helping my family overcome the cycle of poverty. As I finished college, my siblings were in pivotal moments in their lives, choosing whether to finish, or for others, even to attend college.

After my college graduation, I didn’t know what to do next. College was the only real goal I had set in life, and it was of the utmost importance to me and everyone around me. I didn’t know what to do after achieving that goal.

I decided to serve two years as an AmeriCorps member. My family of five had kept itself fed on less than $20,000 a year and I thought that if we could do that, then I could most certainly live off of at least half of that as an individual.

While serving in AmeriCorps, I heard about a community financial assistance program, AccountAbility Minnesota, now Prepare + Prosper, that could help you file your taxes for free. I had done my own taxes since I was 16, so I decided to volunteer at a VITA site as a tax preparer. In volunteering, I also decided to take advantage of the free service that year, as I had no idea how the AmeriCorps stipend may affect my taxes differently than a regular income.

I have been filing my taxes with Prepare + Prosper for two years now. During the first year, I set up a savings account to be separate from my checking and made a personal goal of setting aside $1,000 in an emergency savings. During the second year, I decided to attend an introductory session on student loans and heard about another Prepare + Prosper service program called Money Mentors.

The first six months of Money Mentors was emotionally draining for me. I had many financial goals: I wanted to buy a dependable used car, stop living paycheck to paycheck, start a savings account and stick to a budget, and get my credit card debt under control. However, I didn’t know how to get started on these goals or what the best options for achieving these goals would be. I only knew how to do what I had always been doing—depending on credit cards to get by month to month.

I had no idea how to make the jump from low-income and a poverty-living mindset into a middle- or upper-class successfully living individual. This was my new goal; not only to survive, but to really succeed in life (and therefore, financially succeed as well).

My coach, Claire, was a phenomenal mentor to work with those first six months. Even though my job was a blessing, I was a wreck – working my first real job that paid over $20,000 per year, with full benefits, and only one job instead of needing to work two to three jobs simultaneously. I was in foreign territory and so scared I would mess it up.

Meeting with Claire once a month for two six-month sessions kept me on track and helped me to better understand the financial decisions I was making or not making and how that would affect my future.

Claire helped bring calm and clarity to my situation. She would listen empathetically, provide different perspectives, and help me see the overall situation objectively. She helped me talk through tough financial situations. I have her to thank for encouraging me to pursue a new job which paid more and was in the career field in which I wanted to better align myself. She also helped me work through some personal fears in eventually signing up for a Debt Management Plan (DMP) in which I now have a plan to pay off over $15,000 of credit card debt within the next five years. After I signed up for the DMP, my monthly payments on my credit card debt was cut in half.

I’m also now on a budget that actually works and is not keeping me on a cycle of using revolving debt. I’ve made progress on my financial goals and feel like I now have a healthier view of how to discuss money with those around me.

Claire has been there for me through it all, and I want to thank her for being one of the best mentors I’ve had in my life.

Dear Claire,

I want to thank you for all of the time and commitment you’ve put into being a coach in the Money Mentors program at Prepare + Prosper. You sat with me while I complained about my bills. You sat with me while I cried over how impossible changing my financial future seemed. You sat with me as I contemplated taking a second or third job to increase my income when I couldn’t decrease my expenses. You sat with me while I talked about how hard it is to change negative spending habits that have been engrained in you since your childhood. You sat with me while I expressed my concern for my family members who lived far away and how I still felt like I need to be supporting them.

You listened to me. You supported me. You encouraged me. You challenged me. You were there for me and let me know that what I was feeling mattered. Thank you for working with me this past year and thank you for continuously being there for me, no matter what happened or which decisions I made regarding my finances, good or bad. Thank you for empowering me as a growing independent woman in my own and for understanding that generational poverty does not change instantaneously just with “good advice.” Thank you for sitting with me and being there with me through it all.

Being a participant in Money Mentors has changed my life. It has changed how I talk about spending money, saving money, and how money impacts the daily decisions I make each day. Thank you for being willing to commit to such a program and working to bring change to the lives of others around you.


Stacy Opitz

Marketing + Communications Director

All author posts
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly.Update my browser now