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Saving strategies -- one penny at a time

By Steve Rosen

Tribune Media Services

December 1, 2008

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Pssst! Kids, want a hot investment tip in these tough times?

Save your change. It's as simple as that.

Just ask Judy Woodward of Gorham, N.H. She knows firsthand about the power of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.

Her mantra: Loose change really can add up.

Now Woodward's hoping that her message will begin to ripple and grow until it reaches more children and more families and makes a positive impact on helping people learn the savings habit.

"You may say that it makes little sense to talk about saving when things are so bad," said Woodward. "It is difficult to save money, especially dollars. But saving your change is something that is achievable even in these economic times."

Parents, take a page from Woodward and encourage your children to drop their coins -- or your spare change -- in a container each night. Search under the couch cushions, clean out the car, empty Dad's pants pockets.

And in this season of spending, here's something else to think about: Suggest that your children -- heck, the entire family -- donate their coins to a charitable organization to help people who need money. Or organize a school-wide "Roll Your Change" event in conjunction with America Saves month in February, and deposit the kids' coins in savings accounts.

That's what Woodward set out to do two years ago. She is the financial literacy program coordinator at the nonprofit Family Resource Center in Gorham. Like many other communities, this town of about 2,900 residents in northeastern New Hampshire has been jolted by economic uncertainties, losing a paper mill and facing significant challenges as its manufacturing base slipped away.

Out of these tough times, Woodward and other community leaders saw another big challenge -- financial education and the need for it to begin early and cover all ages. "What I began to realize," said Woodward, "was that to do this we would really need to change the culture of money and how our families view money and credit."

The end result: "Roll Your Change Week."

With feel-good motivation in October 2007, high school students in Gorham organized a "Rock and Roll" community service event to highlight the week. Students listened to music and rolled coins for children and anybody else who wanted to deposit the money into a bank account.

"The idea was to help people realize that creating a savings plan doesn't have to be a complicated activity that they should put off until they can afford a financial planner," Woodward said.

The event had an immediate, positive effect in helping to educate children and other participants on the wisdom of planning ahead financially.

Earlier this fall, Gorham held its second "Roll Your Change Week" and "Rock and Roll" event. There were 352 depositors during the week with $19,895.21 deposited in savings accounts. Of those, 12 new savings accounts were opened, and the total deposited was $523.69.

Woodward said observing the young savers and how excited they were to empty their piggybanks was striking. She praised two young girls who deposited more than $50 each in savings accounts a year ago.

"When the girls went to deposit their change this year, they each had more than $200 in savings," said Woodward. "Now that is a culture change."

The story was not an exception.

What financial lessons did the 25 student volunteers learn this year?

Besides becoming keenly aware that handling money can be a very dirty occupation, Woodward said there was another key lesson. Loose change really adds up whether you are saving it or spending it.

Said Woodward: "One student said that if saving a quarter here and a dime there adds up to so much, then spending a quarter here or a dime there must do the same thing. I couldn't have put that into better words myself and it was great that they realized it is the small everyday purchases that often cost us the most."

You can bank on that lesson.

Questions, comments, column ideas? Send an e-mail to srosen(AT)kcstar.com or write to him at The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.