Budgeting for Life

This past summer, AWF launched our latest grant program – Breaking Barriers, Building Women: Economic Empowerment Program, which focuses on higher education and asset building for low-income women in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett counties. One of the current organizations that is a part of the grantee cohort is Buckhead Christian Ministry (BCM). This month we hear from BCM’s president and CEO, Keeva Kase, about their financial curriculum and coaching program called “Budget for Life” that helps clients become financially and economically secure.

Imagine being in crippling high-interest debt, working multiple low paying jobs, and having no savings or cushion in your checking account. You have no health insurance, retirement, and are living pay-check-to-pay-check. On average you spend more than 60% or 70% of your monthly take home pay on rent. You are barely surviving. One misstep and it all falls apart.

At BCM, we interface with individuals and families like this every day. In fact, this reality is the norm for many of our neighbors, no matter their income. In fact, only 39% of Americans have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency. While income, affordability, and other externalities such as economic injustice, redlining, and education inequality certainly influence the poor economic state of these households, the one thing they have in common is a lack of financial wherewithal. They do not know how to manage money, create and stay on a budget, differentiate between needs and wants, and how to pay themselves first.

While there are many quality money management programs out there for people, there are few curricular products aimed at those who are living in poverty and truly at risk of homelessness. We might call these individuals the “working poor.”

Over a decade ago, BCM developed a proprietary financial curriculum and coaching program called “The 70/30 Project,” in which low income earners would learn financial basics and attempt to adjust their budgets to reflect the best practice of having 30% of their income go toward housing and 70% go toward outstanding debts, expenses, and savings. Now known as “Budget for Life,” the program is a 22-week intensive financial knowledge acquisition, budgeting, accountability, and debt remediation program. Case Managers also work with participants on negotiating interest rates, disputing bad credit reports, increasing wages, and saving money. By paying rent and utilities for program participants commensurate with their paying off debt, over the life of the program ~$1M in high interest debts have been retired by class participants.

Budget for Life graduates continue for six months after completing the program in a savings match program, in which if they can demonstrate consistent deposits in and without withdrawals from a savings account, BCM provides a dollar for dollar match. Limited in scale for years, Budget for Life was a single class with 10-15 people graduating each year. In 2018, with the help of The Atlanta Women’s Foundation and other area funders, BCM was able to triple the size of the program and double the savings match from $500 to $1000 per family.

The life-changing power of financial education, debt relief, and better wages, among the many other benefits of Budget for Life, are programmatically rare in the world of nonprofits. Typically, charities put band aids on wounds that are so unimaginably deep and hard to heal. At BCM, we take a long-term, deep investment, high touch approach, fully faithful that the compassion and dignity with which we deploy Budget for Life will break barriers for families today and for generations to come.

Join us as we change lives forever. You can be a Money Management Coach, a Budget for Life Instructor, or sponsor a family or class. Contact me at keevakase@bcmatlanta.org to find out more.

Keeva Kase joined Buckhead Christian Ministry in August 2017 as President and Chief Executive Officer. A Georgia native, Keeva is a passionate, seasoned community leader with a heart for service. His track record includes 20 years of nonprofit and church leadership, including serving as a pastor to a congregation made up entirely of hungry and homeless individuals and families, scaling Court Appointed Special Advocates across New Jersey, and leading various efforts aimed at education and health reform for children at risk.

Keeva is an experienced nonprofit executive skilled in strategic planning, budgeting, business development, staff management, community organizing, and advocacy. He earned a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Berry College in Rome. Keeva and his wife, Lauren, have two children, Ketch and Claire.

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