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YNABer Spotlight: Claudia Holt

Doing Good Work at Prepare + Prosper

“You all know we’re borderline culty,” Claudia Holt explains, talking about YNABers (herself included). She’s recapping an exchange between her and her best friend, both avid budgeters.

“I went on a roadtrip to see my best friend this summer, we’re both YNAB users. We were having a conversation about renting an Airbnb in the mountains.”

Her friend had just put in new floors and couldn’t quite swing the money in her travel budget.

“She said, ‘Can we just hang out at my house and drink wine?’” Claudia remembers. As a fellow YNAB user, she was all in for shifting priorities. So that’s exactly what they did.

“You know who’d be proud?” Claudia asked. “Financial heartthrob Jesse Mecham.”

Yes, she’s been watching Whiteboard Wednesdays for a long time. Our apologies to Jesse’s fan club for the discontinuation of that one. You’ll have to catch him on the YNAB podcast instead (or check out his newly minted business podcast!).

I had called Claudia after being given her info from Kody, who runs our YNAB for Good Program here at You Need a Budget. Claudia lives in Minneapolis and works at Prepare + Prosper (P+P), a non-profit organization that was doing incredible work in their community.

Prepare + Prosper

The goal of Prepare + Prosper (P+P) is to help people move from “getting by” to “getting ahead.” This non-profit offers tax and financial services for low- to moderate-income individuals and families and is supported by a team of 500+ IRS-certified volunteers who help over 10,000 tax payers get their maximum refund year round. It was started back in 1971 by a group of social-justice-minded accountants who believed quality tax prep shouldn’t be out of reach for people no matter what their income. Nowadays, Prepare + Prosper is the largest Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) provider in Minnesota—an IRS tax prep program for low- to moderate-income individuals.

Creating a Funnel Through Tax Time

Prepare + Prosper starts developing relationships at one of the biggest money moments of the year: tax time.

A person’s tax refund is often the largest windfall of cash they’ll receive all year. Their volunteers help thousands of people turn what could be a complicated process into a relatively painless endeavor.

In tandem with filing taxes, volunteer Financial Advocates sit down to help anyone start an emergency savings fund, open a savings account, or check a credit report.

It was great, but there was one downside: taxes are one-time-a-year activity.

“There wasn’t an ongoing relationship,” Claudia said.

To further build financial well-being, Prepare + Prosper started seeking out other options to help underserved members of the community with their finances. On top of free tax prep services, they started offering financial inclusion services such as the FAIR Financial Banking program, a suite of banking products with no overdraft fees and no monthly minimums. FAIR is designed for people who have been left out of mainstream financial systems to access checking and savings accounts, and build credit.

“There are deep, systemic issues that make it really hard for people.” Claudia notes.

Learn more about the racial wealth gap explained in plain terms.

In 2014, Prepare + Prosper launched the Money Mentors financial coaching program to offer a more holistic financial wellness solution.

Claudia talking with some of her Money Mentor coaches
Claudia talking with some of her Money Mentor coaches

Money Mentors and Peer Workshops

During a typical Money Mentors coaching session, Claudia—or one of her 30+ volunteer coaches—offers individualized coaching centered around improving credit, budgeting, the struggle to pay bills on time, figuring out student loans, and a host of other financial hurdles. Coaches work with people 1:1 each month for a minimum of six months to set goals, acting as an accountability partner and support network.

A secondary component to Money Mentors are monthly workshops with peers. Before COVID-19, the groups gather in a conference room with walls covered in chart paper and sticky notes that are filled with writing by the end of the evening.

“It’s a taboo to talk about money,” Claudia notes. These workshops offer a safe way to break that taboo and normalize conversations about an often hidden topic.

“Just having a bunch of people who come from sometimes similar, sometimes different backgrounds—having people together talking about their situations and strategies goes so much farther than a financial literacy class.”

Prepare + Prosper + YNAB

Claudia has been putting in the work to improve financial wellness for years.

“I’m just a nerd about financial capability in general. One of the things we talk about is using your values to guide your spending choices. That needs to be the thing you constantly go back to.”

So when we rolled out our YNAB for Good program last year—offering free YNAB subscriptions to non-profits—we were thankful to have Claudia and P+P as a partner.

“I’ve always appreciated your approach to being non-judgmental, not being stressful.”

YNAB subscriptions are offered for free during Claudia’s Money Mentors program as a tool for budgeting.

“Whenever I would mention YNAB before, I would mention it—but I’d say ‘YNAB does have a fee, make that choice for yourself.’” Claudia says. “But now, being able to say you have a year subscription for free, people are jumping on it. They’re so much more likely to use it.”

“Although getting it set up can be a little daunting, I have coaches that are dedicated YNAB users. The people we’ve provided it for have been super thankful.”

We’re happy to report we’ve recently squashed the learning curve, making it worlds easier for anyone and everyone learn how to budget simply and efficiently.

Continuing to Do the Work

The Money Mentors program helped many people weather the uncertainty storm of 2020, a gift they were quick to credit to Money Mentors.

“A bunch of people were like, ‘I feel better equipped than a lot of my peers because I’ve been in this Money Mentors program. I have a budget. I know what expenses to cut.’”

After a long and difficult pandemic year, Claudia is looking forward to the return of peer workshops, which had been understandably shuttered during the pandemic.

“I miss the energy in the room with peer sessions. I miss seeing my coaches regularly. I miss those personal connections.”

No matter how things shake out, Claudia and the rest of the staff at P+P continue to put in the work they’ve been doing for a long time, serving those in the community and helping build a firmer financial foundation for all involved.

Want to Help?

If you’re in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area, Claudia is always looking for more Money Mentors to join the team.

There are plenty of opportunities for virtual tax prep, zoom hosts and more. See how you can get involved.

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YNABer Spotlight: Claudia Holt