Be a Saver - Start a Financial Savings Habit.
By Megan Harmon, Chief Operations Officer, Eastern Colorado Bank

Being financially resilient is more than having access to money - it includes an understanding of your own financial landscape, being aware of available resources, and being willing to take advantage of opportunities that will support and increase your financial health and wellness.
America Saves Week, Feb. 21-25, is an annual celebration, and call to action, for everyday Americans to commit to saving successfully. The milestone encourages individuals to do a financial check-in that allows them to get a clear view of the finances, set savings goals, and create a plan to achieve them.

Make 2022 your year to develop a financial saving habit. Consider these five steps to get started:

Setting unsustainable goals is a sure-fire way to get discouraged early. Start with a small, obtainable goal and let that be your goal for 2022. Most people would benefit from three savings goals: save for retirement, save for emergencies, and save for fun.

If you are not participating in your company’s 401k plan, start today. Not only does it reduce taxable income but many companies offer a match up to a certain percentage. Your starting goal should be to contribute enough to make that match. But if that seems like too much of a stretch, then start with 1 or 2% of your income. If your company does not offer a 401k, talk to your local financial institution about an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

Most financial institutions offer savings accounts with opening balances as low as ten dollars. Establishing separate accounts will enable you to keep your goals clear and not confuse spending money on a hot water heater as the same priority as buying a new pair of shoes. Start with a small, realistic dollar amount for each. Even putting away $25 per month can add up.

Saving is easier to make into a habit if you have an end goal in mind. Simple tools like labeling the savings account with your specific goal can help, such as “trip to Alaska” or “$5,000 emergency fund”. Your financial institution can help you nickname accounts yourself. Then if you are tempted to take the money for a “non-approved” reason, you’ll have your goal reminding you why you were doing this in the first place.

If you took the advice of being realistic, being strict should come easy. Develop a list of what qualifies as an emergency. Are you allowed to use it to pay routine medical bills or only if you have a medical emergency? If you are planning for a vacation, are you allowed to book the trip prior to having the full cost of the trip saved or do you have to have the entire balance in hand before placing reservations? This is especially important if you are developing your financial saving habit with another person.

If your employer offers direct deposit, check to see if you can have your 401k contributions withdrawn automatically. Or send 80% of your paycheck to your checking account and the remaining 20% to your two savings accounts. If this is not offered or if you are paid with cash or by check, ask your financial institution about setting up auto-transfers to your IRA and savings accounts. The sooner the money is out of sight, the less likely you are to spend it accidently.

Now that you’ve successfully built this habit, when you head into 2023 or anytime you receive additional money, decide ahead of time how that will affect your financial saving habit. Commit to putting a percentage of any raise towards your savings. For example, if you receive a 5% raise, 3% needs to go toward savings and the other 2% is yours to keep. Make sure you do this at the very beginning as you’ll never miss what you didn’t have.

I had a very wise financial advisor once say to me, “pay yourself first”. If you get off track, get back on track as quickly as possible. Having sufficient savings takes stress out of your life so you can focus on more important things. Take action this America Saves Week to create a stellar financial saving habit.

Megan Harmon is the Chief Operations Officer and Colorado Springs Branch
President for Eastern Colorado Bank.


First-ever financial training at ComCor in Colorado Springs intended to reduce recidivism

by Debbie Kelley at The Gazette April 13, 2022

Eleven women of varying ages sit on chairs positioned in a horseshoe, clutching handouts and responding to questions from the instructor. The task: Discern whether a purchase is an impulse or a habit, something they do or do not need, an expenditure they can or cannot control.

“What was the last item you bought that was $5?” case manager Noah Ruybal asked the group. Most likely a drink or food, some said. “$10?” Cigarettes for many. It’s a habit, and “You don’t want to run out,” noted one woman. What about $100? “What?” one woman yelled out. “Oh, Lord,” mumbled another. “Usually at $100, people put ‘substance,’ meaning drugs, said Ruybal, who’s teaching a first-ever financial literacy course at ComCor Inc. in Colorado Springs. The private, nonprofit diversion program provides residential treatment, counseling, employment assistance and lessons in personal improvement for criminal offenders exiting the state’s correctional system. To come up with the $100 in the example, many clients would ask someone if they could borrow money and probably couldn’t pay it back, Ruybal said.

The wave of debt to others and society grows when people are sent to ComCor’s intensive residential treatment program, which includes the women in the finance class. They’re transitioning from living behind bars to reintegrating back into society, are there as a condition of probation, or have been assigned to ComCor instead of incarceration. Under the 90-day program, they must remain sober while they receive therapy for their addictions. They can't work, so rent and other obligations can add up, Ruybal said. “One of my clients said she’s never really thought about finances before,” he said. “Now that she’s going to be entering the world sober, she’s learning how to budget.” The program, created by Eastern Colorado Bank headquartered in Cheyenne Wells, is part of a new direction for the halfway house.

Alternative penal centers have come under scrutiny in recent years from audits, data and facility reports showing shortcomings in rehabilitating clients. A Gazette investigation in 2020 uncovered incidents of staff sexual misconduct, drug use, violence, escapes and worsening recidivism rates at halfway houses statewide. The situation became so troublesome that in 2018, Colorado’s Department of Corrections reported to the Legislature that female offenders were opting to stay in prison rather than transition into a halfway house program over concerns about safety and drug use among clients. Colorado Springs resident Ashley Truitt said she chose serving time in prison instead of going to ComCor for a previous conviction because of the facility’s negative reputation. Today, with a drug charge, she’s in ComCor’s intensive residential treatment program.  The “bad rap” the institution has gotten has dissipated, she said.

A rebranding initiative launched last month, said Jeanie Vigil, client program manager, under Executive Director Mark Wester’s vision to “build community corrections into something more than your sentence.” That means providing clients with a life-changing experience for the better, Vigil said. “They are revamping a lot of things, and you get out of it what you put into it,” Truitt said. “It’s obvious the staff now genuinely care about us.”

Truitt thinks the financial class will be beneficial. She hopes to reenter the housekeeping eld after completing the three-month intensive program and moving into the regular section of ComCor for five months, which requires employment. “If you have a basic understanding of these life skills, it can help you feel like your only answer is not to turn to your street knowledge,” she said. “This takes a lot of intimidation out of it, and people realize they’re more capable than they think.” New training like financial literacy, and another course based on the book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” are intended to “meet clients were they’re at” and develop useful skills, Vigil said.

The women are learning how their relationship with money can be less adversarial, as they plan to legitimately earn a living. “The goal is they’ll start feeling like they’re in control of their future,” Vigil said. The new classes also are intended to decrease repeat offenses, said Shannon Chase, chair of the ComCor board and vice president of funding for Eastern Colorado Bank, which developed the interactive course specially for the correctional population.

Southeast Express 
May 16, 2022
by Marcus Hill, REporter

Students at Otero Elementary School learned the importance of money and entrepreneurship on May 13 during Junior Achievement in a Day financial literacy training.

The program teaches elementary school kids about the importance of finance, budgeting, how to use various forms of payment. 

“We work with volunteers in the community to teach students lessons in financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship,” said Lauren Kunze, director of program strategy and partnerships for Junior Achievement Southern Colorado. “This model of what we do is called ‘JA in a Day’ and it’s for grades [kindergarten] through fifth grade. Each classroom has a set of volunteers who prepare our ready-made curriculum and they talk to students about business, jobs and money.”

Rather than offer bland presentations that Kunze said, “might miss the mark with kids,” volunteers taught lessons through games.

In some classrooms, students created businesses and set prices for their product to understand how revenue and expense work.

In others, kids learned the differences between cash, check, credit and debit cards, and digital wallets, by pretending to purchase items with each form of payment.

To help the lessons stick, Kunze said Junior Achievement provides resources for kids to bring to their parents.

“We have some take home materials that have games and activities that students and their families can participate in at home,” Kunze said. “We want to bring that real-world experience into the classroom so students see the connection between what they’re learning in their academics to what kind of careers they might have.”

Misty Silvas, Eastern Colorado Bank assistant vice president of operations, showed kindergartners how to make “smart” savings choices.

Silvas said this included teaching financial vocabulary words – bank, savings, money, need, want – and asked the kindergartners to define those.

“This class was amazing, and they were very attentive,” Silvas said. “They were great listeners and followed the lesson. A lot of them already have strong savings goals. You’re never too young to learn how to start saving money and making smart financial choices. If we start at kindergarten to set the foundation to have them become a strong entrepreneur, you’re setting a foundation for them to have a good future.”

Cristina Kuhl, a special education teacher at Otero, said she felt the kids enjoyed JA in a Day activities.

“I think we’ve lost the sense of teaching the importance of money and capitalism and what’s around for us,” Khul said. “It’s important for kids to learn that money is needed to buy things, but they should also know where money comes from and why money can be important later on.”

Khul also said she learned from the activities and plans to apply those lessons in her life.

“We’ve talked a lot about entrepreneur and different people who have created businesses” Kuhl said. “I want to capitalize on the resources I have and teach the kids that they have those available for them as well.”