Maurece Jones took the stage at the New York Stock Exchange, the heart of Wall Street. A few floors away, a mostly-male coterie of executives from the Mexican airline Volaris rang the opening bell on the exchange floor. But on the seventh floor, Jones told an audience of mostly women about the circumstances that led her to Dress for Success, the organization known for providing underprivileged women looking to enter the workforce with suits to wear. The group actually does much more, stating in its mission that it aims to “promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women.” On Wednesday morning, the group was hosting a “power breakfast” to raise awareness and funds for its Financial Literacy Program.
In a letter to her mom that she wrote in lieu of a speech, Jones said she joined Dress for Success in 2011, the same year her mother passed away. After completing the 13-week financial literacy program, Jones said she felt “armed” with the knowledge to go out and take care of her economic life. More than that, she credited the tight-knit group of women with helping her through a difficult time of grief.
“They made sure I was OK,” Jones told us after the event wrapped up. The group provided “check ins” to make sure she was coping. “When you get depressed, you spend more,” she said.
Nowadays, Jones says she has a whole new perspective about money. She says she thinks about the long term cost of things that she buys on her credit card to determine “is it a want or a need.” And when she’s thinking about buying those black shoes she doesn’t really need, she’ll “get quiet to block out the noise.” Sometimes she’ll just leave the store, to help clear her mind and come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t need to spend her money.
The Financial Literacy Program, which serves the Professional Women’s Group (PWG), launched in 2008. According to a press statement, 100 percent of the program graduates have made upturns in their financial habits after participating. Amy Tashjian, the East coast director of operations for Dress for Success, said the most recent group saved more than $8,000 in an emergency fund and paid off more than $3,000 in debt during their 13 weeks. Dress for Success is in 130 cities and 15 countries. PWG hopes to expand to 30 affiliates in the coming year.
“You control your power. Money is power,” Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide told MN Business. The Financial Literacy Program shows women that they can make better choices, teaching them how to get the most from what’s being offered. For instance, she says, many women don’t sign up for a 401(K) when it’s offered at their job, effectively “leaving money on the table,” more if their company has a matching program.
And in terms of higher education, people in general are leaving grants and other funding opportunities untouched, which could keep them from having to take out pricey student loans. “Education is the key,” she said. We took that in a twofold way — both a college education and a financial education, both as a means of “moving out of poverty.”
More than just paying off debt and getting a job, the Financial Literacy Program is meant to teach women about asset management. During her time at the podium, Tashjian said that a woman learned valuable asset management lessons that helped her save her home from foreclosure.