Neighborhood Trust financial coach, Liz Olaya

Living paycheck-to-paycheck makes it hard to plan for the future, but setting and achieving short-term goals can make it easier

By Liz Olaya

Before joining the financial coaching team at Neighborhood Trust, I was an operations manager in retail. With the nature of retail being what it is, I had a lot of employees with highly variable incomes and constantly changing hours and wages. In a scenario where you are living paycheck to paycheck, it’s hard to think about the long-term future. I also know what this is like from personal experience as someone who immigrated to the States as a child and saw my own parents struggle to navigate the financial system, to the point where they had to file for bankruptcy. After learning from my parents’ experiences, I knew I wanted to get involved with an organization where I could help others tackle their financial struggles, which pushed me to join Neighborhood Trust.

In my work as a financial coach, I mostly advise low and middle-income workers, many of whom have the same types of needs and challenges as colleagues from my retail days. A common issue for a lot of my clients is income volatility. While the volatility is a bit beyond our control, we can help smooth it out by helping clients with budgeting and managing their finances. This way, our clients are in a better position to get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle and can start thinking in the long-term — not just the short-term.

One memorable client is a woman who, prior to her current job, accumulated a lot of debt as a result of a series of unexpected expenses and emergencies. Like a lot of my clients, when we first started working together, she had a lot of financial goals but didn’t really have a plan to achieve them.
One of the first goals that we created a plan for was paying off her credit card. What makes this case memorable is that the day she finished paying off her credit card, she emailed me saying,

“Liz, it’s November 1. I said I would pay if off by Nov. 1 and I did it!”

Sticking to her plan to pay off the card wasn’t a straightforward journey; like many of us, there were points where she fell off track and needed to get back on track. But ultimately, because we had a plan that she held herself accountable to over time, she was able to achieve her goal. Once she achieved that, she felt empowered to work on her next goal — even doing research on her own — leaving her able to make better decisions for herself. Seeing people take charge of their financial future, that to me is the definition of progress.

To anyone who is thinking of signing up for financial coaching: it’s a great way to become excited and motivated about you and your future.

Seeing a financial coach doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have a problem. You might just want to chat with somebody, tease out your goals, decide what step to take first. And it’s a very rewarding experience. You get to speak to somebody who cares about you, will motivate you, and is there to support you with no judgment. Even if you just have some questions or concerns, coaches like me are here to really guide you as best as we can.