Not Just For A Rainy Day

Getting African Americans to start saving one dollar at a time

“I used to just put it on the credit card and worry about it when the bill came,” says Michael Campbell, community development officer for Columbia Bank in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. He is no longer a spontaneous shopper. “I save for particular things,” says Campbell, who is now saving tuition for his college-bound daughter. “For most things I give myself a six-month saving period. And the way I now use my credit cards–if I can’t pay it back in three months, I don’t get it.”

Unfortunately, most of us are not as disciplined. It’s no secret that the majority of the $601 billion in earned money income by black households in 2001 was spent on everything from rent and groceries to computers and cars–with very little of these earnings saved or invested.

With hopes of reversing this trend, BET.com has joined with Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Federation of America (CFA), a not-for-profit association of 300 pro-consumer groups, to establish a Black America Saves Club, part of BET.com’s Building Black Wealth Initiative. The Initiative includes a weekly financial segment on BET Nightly News and a Web page on www.BET.com with financial information, saving strategies, and membership registration for the Black America Saves Club. Members receive a Build Wealth Not Debt brochure, a complimentary subscription to the quarterly newsletter, American Saver, and one free session, via phone or Internet, with a registered financial planner.

Under its Initiative, BET.com will also host live monthly chats with the head of the Coalition of Black Investors, other financial advisors, and mortgage lenders. While the Black America Saves Club page asks for some personal information, the online privacy statements of both BET.com and CFA state that member information is kept confidential. Interested participants are asked to register online at the Black America Saves page with their savings goal.

“We found that black Americans have a shorter planning horizon than other Americans,” says Stephen Brobeck, executive director of CFA. In fact, the typical black household had less than one-quarter the net wealth of the typical non-black American household–$15,500 compared to $71,700.

“We don’t track if you actually save,” says Retha Hill, vice president of content development for BET.com. “We found that when people set a goal and put it down on paper, it helps them to get organized.”

A saver since his college days, Roby S. Williams, president of the Black Business Association in Memphis, Tennessee, is on a personal mission to encourage African Americans to save. The association has already partnered with two local Baptist churches, and Williams plans to encourage parishioners to save through their church’s credit unions. “I want us to rethink wealth–not defining it as a big Bentley or a Mercedes with 20-inch rims,” he explains, “but as capital we pass from generation to generation promoting an intergenerational sharing of values.”

BE offers support and suggestions on saving through its Black Wealth Initiative started three years ago this month. For a free Wealth Building Kit, visit us online at blackenterprise.com or call 877-WEALTHY.

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