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Financial fitness Fridays offer dollars and sense

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By JAMES E. CASTO
For The State Journal

HUNTINGTON — If you want to get physically fit, you might go to a gym for some expert help, right? But what if you're feeling overwhelmed or confused by financial headaches? where can you turn for help?

Providing that kind of expert financial information and advice is the idea behind Financial Fitness Fridays, a new program being offered in Huntington by the Financial Stability Partnership of the River Cities, an initiative of the United Way of the River Cities.

The free, informal sessions are conducted from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on the third Friday of each month at The Thai House Restaurant at Pullman Square in Huntington.

Through games and activities, participants learn to budget, save and make the most of their paychecks, explains Rachel Houston, FSP program assistant. During the sessions, participants work with a coach to discuss their financial goals, and participants are urged to take advantage of follow-up sessions.

"Perhaps more than anything else, Financial Fitness Fridays introduce participants to the concept of planning their finances — not a familiar concept to most of them," Houston said.

While the goals of the sessions are serious, the classes intentionally have a fun aspect to them, Houston said. Participants can win movie tickets or other prizes and are treated to free appetizers.

Each monthly session addresses a different topic. The October topic was investments. "Now that fall is here, we're going to be talking about coping with those winter heating bills and how to avoid being buried in bills for holiday shopping," Houston said.

One Huntington resident said the program came along at the right time for her.

"The monthly meetings gave me the opportunity to focus on my family's finances," Melinda Midkiff of Huntington said in a news release. "The meetings are fun, and I have gotten some great ideas."

The Financial Stability Partnership and the West Virginia Alliance for Sustainable Families have partnered on the Financial Fitness Fridays program, funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

"Overall our goals are to provide families access to investing and budgeting tools and strategies that save money, reduce debt and help build wealth," Houston said. 

The Financial Fitness Fridays program is only one of several efforts conducted by the FSP.

On Nov. 8, FSP representatives will meet with City of Huntington employees at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena and Conferences Center to provide them with information they can use to better plan their finances through budgeting, debt management and saving.

"We invite any businesses in the Huntington area to contact us so we can conduct similar information sessions for their workers," Houston said. "We can offer ‘Lunch and Learn' sessions, daylong sessions, after-hours training and one-on-one training, coaching or follow-ups."

Each year at income tax time, FSP works with other local sponsors to offer locations where low- and moderate-income families and individuals can have their state and federal taxes prepared and filed by IRS-certified volunteers. In 2013, this free service prepared more than 2,800 returns, obtained nearly $3.5 million in refunds for those filing and saved them more than $500,000 in filing fees. 

For details about the work of the Financial Stability Partnership or to register for the next Financial Fitness Friday, scheduled for Nov. 15, contact Houston at rachel.houston@unitedwayrivercities.org or 304-412-0640.