Xena was working hard as a single mom to provide for her 4-year-old boy. Unfortunately, living in a high-cost-of-living Virginia suburb to be near her family proved to be detrimental to her finances: her expenses were piling up and exceeding her modest income as a dog groomer, overwhelming her financially. “I was drowning. I was constantly worried about where the money for gas, rent, and groceries was going to come from. At one point, I began skipping meals because I didn’t have enough to buy groceries for both my son and myself. I even found the stress affecting my attitude and how I interacted with my son, getting upset and impatient when he was just acting like a kid.” At that point, she knew she needed to look for help.
After speaking with Fairfax County Services, they connected her to FFP grantee Britepaths, a northern Virginia nonprofit that helps individuals and families in crisis build toward a more stable future. After Xena completed Britepaths’ personal finance courses, the staff recommended that she participate in the mentorship program to really focus on achieving financial stability. Xena entered the program and was paired with Enjoli, a CFP® professional. Formerly in the military, Enjoli transitioned careers to financial planning, obtained her CFP® certification, and began volunteering right away with Britepaths. “Providing pro bono financial planning completely aligned with why I made this career transition in the first place – to help people with their finances. The human aspect of financial planning is really so powerful. The interaction with people, forming connections, building a trusting relationship so they feel comfortable telling you about their financial situation and life – that is really the heart of financial planning. And pro bono is a great opportunity to not only give back to those in need, but also hone those communication and relational skills.”
Enjoli and Xena began meeting twice every month at the end of 2021, helping Xena create a budget, develop a plan to pay off her two credit cards, and look at her expenses to see where she could trim spending. They found that enrolling in a budget-friendly meal plan that worked with her son’s allergy diet would help alleviate some budget strain, as well as cutting out getting fast food. Enjoli and Xena also discovered that Xena had a lot of streaming services that weren’t being used, which Xena decided to cancel. To create even more breathing room in her budget, Britepaths enrolled her in their Food Bridge program, which provides a grocery gift card every two weeks for 6-9 months to help provide healthy food, and also nominated her for a rent voucher program available through another local nonprofit.
Enjoli and Xena then looked at bigger life factors that were straining her financially, specifically the combination of Xena’s low income and high rent. With Enjoli’s help, Xena began looking at more affordable apartments and areas to live in, and she ultimately moved to a different area with a lower cost of living. They also looked at Xena’s income. Despite having started a new job as a full-time program specialist which paid a higher salary than dog grooming, Xena wanted to increase her income to really improve her financial situation, and got a second part-time job with the state of Maryland suicide hotline.
Enjoli shares, “I am really inspired by Xena, with all the progress she has made and her resilience, because things just kept happening, like unexpected medical expenses and her car breaking down, and she just kept moving forward. She really has worked so hard to improve her financial situation. When I go through my own challenges, I think of Xena and all that she has overcome, and it really puts things in perspective.”
Today, Xena is thriving and building a stable financial future for her family. She has fully paid off one credit card, is working on paying off the remaining card, and has increased her credit score from low 500s to high 600s. She also follows the budget she created with Enjoli and is thankful for the peace of mind it brings her. “It’s not perfect now. There are moments where I realize I overspent my budget, but I have a better understanding of my finances now and am more comfortable making financial decisions. I no longer live paycheck to paycheck, and I don’t have to worry anymore about how to make ends meet until payday. That overwhelming stress is gone now and my relationship with my son is so much better.”
Xena is also starting to save and plan for the future. “The plan for my next meeting with Enjoli is to look at Roth IRAs. I’m finally able to save a lot more money, so I would like to learn how to invest for the future.” She is beyond thankful for being connected with Britepaths and Enjoli, sharing “If I hadn’t been introduced to Britepaths and my planner Enjoli, I honestly think I would be homeless. I would have probably lost my child’s home, my car, my pets, everything. I think I would have been in a much darker place mentally just because of how difficult things were becoming financially. This program literally saved me.”
Enjoli’s advice to other planners? “Be a good listener and be empathetic. I think one of the challenges that a typical financial planner faces in pro bono engagements is that they may not be able to relate to some of the challenges that pro bono clients may face. So it’s really important to listen, be empathetic and nonjudgmental. Most of us get into the industry to help people and that’s what pro bono is all about. It may not look like your normal, paid engagement because the situations and issues may be different, but the process is the same and these are people that really need help. You can provide such an important service by being there, providing advice, and listening.”
“If I hadn’t been introduced to Britepaths and my planner Enjoli, I honestly think I would be homeless. This program literally saved me.”
Planner helped client to:
- Develop a budget, trim expenses, and create a plan to pay down her debt.
- Make changes to her life that balanced her budget so her routine expenses no longer exceeded her income.
- Stop living paycheck to paycheck and start saving for the future.