A lot of what I write and speak about can be attributed to the financial common sense I learned from my grandmother, Big Mama.
Often after I speak to a group, I'm greeted by a line of people who want me to personally help them with their finances. As much as I want to help, I can't be a Big Mama to them all.
A few years ago, following another speech and another line of people, I knew I needed to find a way to help those in need of one-on-one financial guidance. So I created a program at my church called Prosperity Partners. The concept is simple. Women who possess the financial common sense my grandmother had (senior partners) help women who are financially challenged (junior partners).
Senior partners aren't professional financial advisers. Instead, they share their own experiences and serve as mentors to help their junior partners find the right resources to improve their finances.
The program has been so successful I would like to encourage other churches or community groups to implement a Prosperity Partners program.
The need is great. So many people are struggling with debt. Others just need someone to motivate them to do better with the money they have.
I know there are a lot of Big Mamas out there. I know there are many women who have a tremendous amount of financial wisdom that they can and should be sharing with others.
Trinita McCall is one of them.
"I didn't think I was financial savvy," said McCall, who has served as a senior partner for two years at my church, First Baptist of Glenarden. "But then I realized I do have something to offer. Sometimes all the senior partner does is plant the seed by providing the information."
McCall has shown her partners how to get out of debt, clear up errors on their credit reports and establish a budget.
One junior partner would even call her from the checkout line.
"She would say, 'I'm in the line, and I need you to help me,' " McCall said. "Then I would ask her to tell me about the things in her cart. I would ask her if she needed what was in there, and we would talk about what she should put back."
At 50, Shirley Jacobs knew she needed something or someone to help her get her finances straight.
"I couldn't see my way out of nothing," Jacobs said. "Prosperity Partners helped me get focused. I'm saving now. I haven't bought a dress in I don't know when. I can see clearly now."
Since starting the program with the support of my pastor's wife, Trina Jenkins, many women have gotten out of debt or have worked through financial problems in their marriages or have begun saving for the first time in their lives.
"It's so much easier when you have someone to walk alongside you, not in an authoritative way but in a way that can help you reach the financial goals you've established for yourself," said Jenkins, who heads the women's ministry at First Baptist under which Prosperity Partners operates. "What's so powerful about this program is you have someone you are accountable to."
This is how Prosperity Partners works:
* Each junior partner is assigned a senior partner. Senior partners are volunteers who don't have to handle their finances perfectly. Their job is to be supportive.
* It's all about goals. Does your junior partner want to get out of debt or save for a home? Partners work together to develop a step-by-step plan to make the goals a reality. Start by having junior partners establish budgets and order copies of their credit reports. All consumers are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the nationwide credit bureaus. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228.
* Partners should communicate regularly. "Don't wait for your partner to call," McCall said. "Sometimes hearing from you will remind her of her goals."
* Keep your conversations private. People will open up about their personal business, and that information should not be fodder for gossip.
* Hold monthly workshops so all the partners can come together in fellowship as a support group. Choose a personal-finance topic for each workshop, such as how to improve your credit score or the basics of investing for retirement. The workshop facilitator should be someone who has a basic knowledge of personal finance. Two Web sites you might use are www.choosetosave.org and www.360financialliteracy.org.
If you do decide to start a Prosperity Partners group, let me know about it. Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject line, put "Prosperity Partners." I'll share your stories.
This is an easy, low-cost program to implement. And it doesn't have to be limited to women. The key to Prosperity Partners is the fellowship and matching up people with others who are on the path to prosperity. And prosperity isn't about having more stuff. It's a way of life in which you use your financial resources to achieve financial security and peace. That's what I learned from my senior partner, Big Mama.
* On the air: Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org.
* By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
* By e-mail: email@example.com.
Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.