Monday, July 16, 2012

Seattle, July 16—I have been busy. In April I attended the Jump$tart Week luncheon sponsored by the Federal Reserve of San Francisco. I had the good fortune of winning the door prize: a Moonjar™ Classroom Kit. Instructions and materials here for a class of about 30 students to get them started on mastering the Saving, Sharing, & Spending choices for how to handle their money. Thanks to all involved and I am hoping to put these to use when the opportunity arises.

Last week I went to the summer meeting of the Washington Asset-Building Coalition. This was the overall state coalition composed of about 17 county-based coalitions! Just the check-in took most of the time because of the amazing creative work going on to raise the financial literacy of the state. Of course, financial literacy is much more encompassing than the humble focus I have, namely, what are the basic skills that are analogous to learning the alphabet or how to compose a sentence. This is from using literacy as the metaphoric bridge connecting finance to language.

Which brings me to today's blog. I have re-organized my tips, given each a letter label (A - M), and expanded each to a bill-sized tip sheet. Interestingly, I managed to skip I in my labeling. This could be fun. There is no I in ... save; no I in ... solvent; no I in ... debt-free; no I in ... money. An certainly no I in Debtors Anonymous.

For research purposes, I attended 3 DA meetings in the area. 2 were Business DA sessions and one was a general session. If you are active with DA and reading this, and getting a little nervous, please understand I absolutely respect the confidentiality expectations common to all the anonymous groups. I will never reveal any identifiable information about specific person.
As is common with all of the Anonymous group meetings I've attended, everyone is inviting and welcoming. First timers are tipped to the rituals of the meetings, where to find the literature table, the bathroom, and so on. I personally tend to arrive early so I make myself available for helping with set-up (moving tables or chairs, laying out the literature). I also stay afterwards to help put things away if it appears I can be of help. This is my small service to support the meetings.

Let's get to what it costs to attend and get that out of the way. All Anonymous groups are self supporting. This has been the case from the beginning. I'll give myself 5 minutes to find an interesting story about John D Rockefeller and the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA, the Granddaddy of them all) ... found it!
In 1938, Bill Wilson's brother-in-law Leonard Strong contacted Willard Richardson, who arranged for a meeting with A. Leroy Chapman, an assistant for John D. Rockefeller Jr. Wilson envisioned receiving millions of dollars to fund AA missionaries and treatment centers, but Rockefeller refused, saying money would spoil things. Instead, he agreed to contribute $5,000 in $30 weekly increments for Wilson and Smith to use for personal expenses.
This would have been 3 years after the founding of AA in 1935.

Back to what it costs. A newcomer may attend the first couple of meetings and not pay or contribute anything. This allows people who are uncertain a chance to check it out for no charge. After than, a treasurer announces the status of the group's finances, any upcoming special events the group is collecting for, etc. Since there was a regional DA conference being planned when I attended, 2 envelopes were circulated—one for the general fund and one to support some aspect of the conference.

What happens? First, there is a long preamble portion. The volunteer facilitator for the meeting uses a printed list of steps and instructions. All Anonymous traditions have their variant of the 12 Steps, and other sacred texts based on the number 12. DA has added 12 Tools for example. These are read by the group, one person reading a section and passing the book or sheet to the another member to continue reading.

If there is a speaker (could be a regular member ready to talk about one of the Steps or Tools), then that person talks about their personal journey with money and finances. This could be very touching an insightful. Then other members have a chance to share in a random order, usually chosen by names pulled from a bowl.
Then when the last person has shared who choses to, there is a closing ritual, usually standing in a circle and reciting the Serenity Prayer.

What sets DA apart from many of the other Anonymous traditions is their use of Pressure Relief Groups (PRGs). Creditors want their money, and will make one's life miserable until they get it. This generates pressure on the debtor. As the name implies, PRGs help DA members consider their options and how to approach creditors to bargain for time, agree to a payment plan or anything else that may relieve the pressure. After several meetings the debtor has a spending and action plan as well. I personally have not experienced one of these groups, but stories about their value pepper the accounts DA members share in their newsletters and blogs. PRGs and the follow-up action steps are Tools 4, 5, & 6.
4. Pressure Relief Groups and Pressure Relief MeetingsAfter we have gained some familiarity with the D.A. program, we organize Pressure Relief Groups consisting of ourselves and two other recovering debtors who have not incurred unsecured debt for at least 90 days and who usually have more experience in the program. The group meets in a series of Pressure Relief Meetings to review our financial situation. These meetings typically result in the formulation of a spending plan and an action plan. 
5. Spending PlanThe spending plan puts our needs first and gives us clarity and balance in our spending. It includes categories for income, spending, debt payment and savings (to help us build cash reserves, however humble). The income plan helps us focus on increasing our income. The debt payment category guides us in making realistic payment arrangements without depriving ourselves. Savings can include prudent reserve, retirement and special purchases. 
6. Action Plan
With the help of our Pressure Relief Group, we develop a list of specific actions for resolving our debts, improving our financial situation, and achieving our goals without incurring unsecured  debt.

I moved Debtors Anonymous to the top of the list because it is anonymous, social, available at low costs, and non-judgmental. It does have a quasi-religious or spiritual aspect, but this can be ignored while one reaps its benefits—peace of mind, solvency, social support, service, & self-confidence.