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This article was published 22/4/2011 (3127 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
LAURIE Howard could no longer afford her home while supporting four children after her husband suffered a severe disability.
Amanda Bibeau grew up in public housing and low-end rentals and was on the outside looking in as she watched her more affluent friends go on vacations to Disneyland.
And just as Vanessa Kunderman's family had recovered emotionally and financially from her father's death, she was diagnosed with cancer at age 16 — and once again, her family's finances were sent into a tailspin.
Yet today, all three women are leading happy lives with solid financial foundations. Their stories of overcoming adversity are meant to serve as inspiration for Manitoba women in a new financial literacy program launched by the Manitoba Securities Commission (MSC) this week called I'm Worth It.
Manitoba Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk attended the launch of the initiative last Monday at the MSC office downtown and told those in attendance that despite all the advances in equality for women, they still are less likely to invest than men.
And women typically earn less, have less pension income in retirement and are more likely to live in poverty after age 65 than men.
Financial literacy is crucial to improving these statistics, she said, but equally important is that women take the initiative with their finances — something Wowchuk did many years ago when she wanted to start a business.
"I'm a country woman. I married a farmer, gave up teaching and after raising children, I wanted some financial independence," says Wowchuk, in charge of the provincial government's purse strings and arguably the most powerful financial figure in Manitoba.
A ceramics instructor, she had wanted to start a small business and went to the bank for a loan.
"The banker said, 'Oh yes, we'll lend you the money, but your husband has to sign for you,' and I thought, 'Not a chance. I want this independence.' "
She went from bank to bank and eventually she got a loan without her husband co-signing.
"When I look back, I realize I'm not the only one who had to start something like that."
The I'm Worth It initiative is largely focused on personal stories similar to the minister's. It also includes all the basic information, such as tips on budgeting, how to choose a financial adviser and even advice from local financial expert Evelyn Jacks, president of the Knowledge Bureau and adviser for the Federal Task Force on Financial Literacy.
While it may seem that developing a 60-page booklet and a website campaign about the basics of financial literacy is a little far afield for a regulatory body in charge of protecting Manitoba investors, ensuring Manitobans have basic financial literacy ultimately leads to a greater pool of savvy investors, says Ainsley Cunningham, manager of education and communications at the MSC.
"The more educational opportunities the public has concerning money and finance, the better informed they will be and the more likely they are to make wise decisions."
Certainly, anyone could benefit from the information provided by this program, but Cunningham says it's deliberately aimed at women because market research conducted by the MSC found financial literacy is lowest among women.
Yet what makes I'm Worth It more than just another collection of basic financial advice are the five compelling stories of Manitoba women.
Below are the stories of three of the women, including their personal tips and advice to build a stronger financial future.
Laurie Howard, former retirement activities counsellor
In 1996, Laurie and her four children found themselves without a home. Her husband had always suffered from illness during their 25 years of marriage, but they still had managed to make ends meet. After his second aneurysm, their safety and their financial situation became untenable.
"I couldn't afford the mortgage payments so I sold to the only bidder for next to nothing," the 56-year-old says.
"I didn't make any money, but paid off all the debts."
With no money for a down payment, Howard and her kids were living in a friend's basement.
They may have lost their home, but they hadn't lost their resourcefulness, she says. They cut coupons and they budgeted fastidiously.
But most importantly, Howard was always on the lookout for financial aid programs, a strategy that soon paid a life-changing dividend. When one of her children was considering post-secondary education, Howard got to work researching grants.
"He got awarded a huge one," she says, adding it provided for living expenses. "And with his money and the little money I had, we bought a house."
Today, Howard's children are all financially stable adults, and Howard is moving to the East Coast to take her masters in divinity.
Her advice to those who "hit rock bottom" like she did: There is a way out, even when you have nothing.
"You think 'There's no way you can save money.' Well, yes you can. There are all kinds of strategies for saving, even if you don't have enough money."
She says she became a master budgeter, trying to finish each month under her set spending limit.
"I made a game of it, and if you can beat it, that's savings."
She even found ways to keep her children in sports and other programs.
"If your kids are in sports, every community club will sponsor your child," she says. "The Y will sponsor your child, so the kids can still participate, even if you don't have the money."
Amanda Bibeau, administrative assistant
Growing up, Bibeau didn't get to enjoy many of the activities other children take for granted.
"My parents weren't as financially stable as my friends' parents," she says. "I really felt left out when my friends would go shopping at the mall and I couldn't go because my parents had no money to give me and I wasn't yet old enough to work."
But the school of hard knocks taught the 21-year-old the true value of money, a lesson she has put to good use today.
"I think watching my parents struggle helped, because I didn't understand what was going on so I asked a lot of questions like 'Why can't I go to Disneyland when all my friends get to go?' or 'Why do we live in a small apartment when all my friends live in gigantic houses?' "
Now Bibeau is a financial role model for anyone her age. An administrative assistant with the Manitoba government, she has a pension, has maxed out her RRSPs two years in a row and contributes to a tax-free savings account (TFSA) for a down payment on a home.
"I'm a bit of a penny-pincher, but I will treat myself," she says. "I know what I need and I know what I want, and I'm able to tell the difference between those two things."
When it comes to taking control of your finances, ask questions, even if you're afraid you'll sound dense, she says.
"Of course, I felt stupid, but as I went through the process, it became easier and it's so helpful."
Fresh from Toronto Fashion Week, the 22-year-old is full of artistic inspiration for her job as art director at Sandbox, a Winnipeg-based fashion and culture magazine she started with a group of friends.
The quarterly magazine is quickly gaining national readership, and Toronto may have been a business trip, but it certainly was enjoyable work, she says.
Yet that's not Kunderman's day job. She works full-time as an investment adviser with Freedom 55 Financial, a somewhat ironic twist of occupational fate, considering how tenuous her future was a few years ago.
At 16, Kunderman was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma — cancer of the immune system, a disease she battled for two years until it went into remission.
The illness was challenging enough, but it wasn't the only tragic turn her family had to overcome.
When she was 11, her father died of cancer. The family's income fell by 80 per cent and the insurance benefit wasn't enough to cover all the bills. Still, her mother persevered and just when they were in a better place financially, Kunderman was diagnosed with cancer.
"My mom couldn't work because she was taking care of me," she says. "It was really hard. I wasn't able to get insurance. I wasn't able to plan for my future."
When she was healthy again, Kunderman realized she needed to take control of her finances.
"I thought, 'Wow, I have to be really smart with my investments to protect my family when I'm older.' "
Today, she says she takes great pride in advising other young women about their finances, preaching the financial planning mantra of 'paying yourself first.'
"We want the cellphones and the lattes, but we also have to remember to put some money in a savings account, a TFSA or an RRSP — however you want," she says. "I don't mean to throw out a lot jargon; it's just so long as you save and plan for the future."
Two other women also offered their stories about the financial challenges they faced. Leslie Hackett, a counsellor, says she is a reformed shopaholic who spent her 20s in the malls buying clothes and shoes on credit. And Luisa Alarcon, who works in marketing and advertising, fell ill while attending university and soon found herself buried by student loans. To find out more about their stories, as well as information about saving for retirement, a home or education, visit www.imworthit.ca.