HOUSTON — We know so many Houstonians are barely making ends meet. Far too many of our neighbors are unemployed because of the pandemic. We’ve seen the need in those long lines for free food. We hear the anxiety from people struggling to find jobs.
So saving money in a pandemic may seem like a far-off dream. The United Way is teaming with J.P. Morgan Chase to fund the Houston Saves program. It’s a free program that encourages people to save money each month by donating to the savings pot.
Autumn Green’s been a part of the program since 2018. So when she lost her job as a pilot car escort, she said, Green, 29, knew it was worth it to sock away whatever she could.
“You know we can’t control the pandemic. But I can control my spending habits,” she said.
“If you are over the age of 18 and you are wanting to get started to save and you already have a savings account, this program is for you,” said Becca Fritze who oversees United Way Houston’s Thrive Initiative. For every $30 you save each month, J.P. Morgan Chase will throw in $20.
“You actually get $5 just for signing up,” Fritze said. “So you could earn in six months, up to $125 in free money. And come out, after six months, with $305 stashed away in your savings account.”
Fritze said sometimes people think it’s too good to be true but she assures Houston, the program is legitimate.
“Even though it seems like you might not have a penny or two to save or put aside for an emergency fund in the future,” said Green who’s learned to create two monthly budgets: needs and wants. “It’s still best to try and learn little tips and tricks of how to spend your money.”
The advice Green has learned helped her save money for a trip to Las Vegas before the pandemic.
“So even saving $1 or $5 it will build up. Just keep being consistent,” she said.
United Way Houston reports that having $400 in savings could be a make or break amount for many people. It can cover small emergencies like fixing a flat tire or paying an immediate medical bill. Fritze says, if you’ve struggled to save and have a savings account, this is a program you might want to give a try.
Green’s sharing the story of her saving with friends and family who motivate her to manage her money.
“Then I know once this pandemic is over, praying, once this pandemic is over I’ll be in a better position,” she said.
Lost Loved One Bereavement Fund:
At the time of publishing this article, United Way Houston had more than $500,000 available in its Lost Loved One Bereavement Fund. The program allows for $3,500 for every immediate family member lost to COVID-19.
“The financial assistance is very flexible,” said Mary Vasquez Vice-President of Community Outreach for United Way Houston. “It’s intended to help the families with whatever unmet needs they may have. It may be funeral arrangements, it may be rent/mortgage payments, utility bills, medical expenses or any other gaps that they’re facing.”
The bereavement funds are available for families in Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Waller counties. There are income requirements.
“And we have heard of families that have lost multiple immediate family members due to this illness because sometimes when one family member gets it,” said Vasquez, “it spread throughout the household.”