Being down to one quarter of her previous income and without any savings drove Suzanne Gannon to the equivalent of Weight Watchers for your money.
Support groups have been particularly popular among women to help them shed weight, and now they are turning to them in the economic crisis to help them build money muscle. Gannon turned to The Money Honeys, a group formed in New York by about 20 women who had met at a financial literacy class.
Gannon joined the class to try and stop the precipitous slide in her financial life. A few years before the economic downturn, she left a lucrative job in corporate communications to pursue her dream of writing. She was just becoming established as a freelancer in 2008 when, as she says "everything imploded." She found herself with little work, no unemployment benefits and no savings.
"There were days I didn't eat," she says — then qualifies that with a detail of her "reckless" approach. "Occasionally, I'd go to a restaurant and go hog wild. Other days I simply didn't eat."
What she was looking for from the financial support group was, she says, "a network of people who'd listen and perhaps share ideas that could help." In addition to "tremendous emotional support," she got to hone budgeting skills learned in the class where The Money Honeys met, and learned to live on 25 percent of what she was once used to.
Best, she says, was the apartment she got from one of the group members, who was moving away from New York. Gannon wound up paying half of her old rent for twice the space -- a psychological boost, she says, that helped her to double her income this year over last. In a bad economy, Gannon is building savings and a pension for the first time.
"Without the support of the group, I'd never have been able to leave my apartment," says Gannon, who moved to Sunnyside, Queens, a year ago, after 13 years on the Upper West Side.
Caroline Cooper, who founded The Money Honeys, says other members have had dramatic successes. One "spendaholic" member cleared $50,000 in personal debt within about a year of joining The Money Honeys and the class that inspired them: Simply Money, taught by Galia Gichon, a Wall Street money manager turned independent advisor for women.
The "spendaholic," who declined to be interviewed, ironically works for a bank, but Gichon says no one is immune from financial foibles. (Many business journalists have taken Gichon's class, and even Gannon, a lifestyle writer, has written about money.) Charging clothes, eating out and taxis, in that order, get many women into trouble, "and it doesn't stop at any age," Gichon says.
Shedding light on financial behavior in a supportive environment is what helps women to change their destructive financial behavior, Gichon says. "The sharing component is what distinguishes the Simply Money classes," begun in 2009, says Gichon, who has given seminars since 2001.
Every class starts with each woman in the room giving a report of how she has fared with her finances that week. It's the equivalent of the Weight Watchers weekly weigh-in, or you might say, a 12-step program's "round robin," where everyone in the room shares. Gichon promotes her classes as being "like Weight Watchers for your money."