If you qualify for a $200,000 home, do you buy a house for $200,000 or $160,000?

That and the answers to similar questions will be answered by the Illinois Commission on Diversity and Human Relations and Charter One Bank at its eight-week financial literacy workshop for Austin youth and adults.

The free workshop sessions start on Saturday and run through Dec. 3. They are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Charter One’s North Avenue location. 

Facilitators are expecting 40-50 people at the first session, according to Michero Washington, vice-president of Program Development at the commission.

The financial literacy series will cover topics including saving and investing, retirement and insurance protection and expanding or enhancing businesses.

“I’m actually facilitating the first session,” Washington said. “We [will] have Kandi Conda [as a facilitator], who’s an expert in entrepreneurship and business plan development.”

You don’t have to be an aspiring entrepreneur or business owner to benefit from the workshops.

“We’re also looking for people who are interested in just changing their financial lives and potential futures,” Washington said. “A lot of people are just inundated with bills and problems and credit, and can’t find work . and money seems to be the genesis of all of that.”

A business plan competition, on Dec. 3, will be the culminating activity to the workshops. The winner will receive $500 in their business’ name and the opportunity to open their first business account with Charter One, for free. Each participant is eligible for the competition and will receive a certificate of completion if he or she attends a minimum of five sessions.

The commission and bank created the “Banking on Change in Austin” series to address financial literacy gaps in the community.
“A focus of the Charter One Foundation is to encourage economic development throughout the communities in which we live and work, and increasing financial literacy is an avenue to success in this area,” said Stacey Sather, senior vice-president and director of Public Affairs for Charter One.

Other local communities have been involved in financial literacy programs tailored to their neighborhood and led by the human relations commission.

“We wrote [this] proposal to Charter One and the foundation reviewed it and decided to support it specifically because they’re located in Austin,” Washington said.

There is a need for financial education and development: Austin has 26.4 percent of people living below poverty level, according to a 2005-2009 study conducted by Chicago demographer Rob Paral.

The workshops will address Austin residents’ economic standing and what Washington calls “barely making it.”

“A lot of people are just living check to check. You miss a check or two and you’re on the streets,” Washington said. “My premise or what I hope people leave with is that the beautiful thing is to learn how to live under your means and really start to save and invest in yourself.”

As to whether a $200,000 or $160,000 house is the way to go, Washington said that people should be conservative when it comes to financial decisions.

“A lot of people are living at or above their means,” she said. “Anything can happen. You can get sick, lose your job, the plumbing goes out, you’ve got to find money to fix it.”