Participants in the Financial Peace University course being conducted at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Cornelius believe that the word of God extends to their bank accounts and budgets, that God wants them to get control of their spending, dump their debt and commit to new behaviors.
Mt. Zion Church associate pastor Tim Reimer has been preaching money management to people in the course for each of the last three winters. He facilitates sessions, which are guided by the Financial Peace University course materials, which were developed by Dave Ramsey, a nationally known money management adviser, author and speaker.
Reimer, who has taught a finance class and run a financial stewardship program in earlier years, was inspired to facilitate the 13-week Financial Peace University after hearing a delivery of advice by Ramsey on local radio as well as from a fellow minister.
The first Financial Peace course at Mt. Zion, in the winter of 2010, drew 85 people, most of whom were parishioners. Now, said Reimer, of the 25 people who attend the two-hour sessions each week, 45 percent to 60 percent are drawn from outside the congregation.
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He surveys those in the class and, in the first two years of the course, he was amazed to learn from his survey that the average debt owed by people in the program, not counting mortgage, was between $38,000 and $41,000, he said. But he was shocked when the 2012 survey revealed average debt of $70,000, he said.
People who attend the course come from a wide spectrum - single people, engaged couples, married parents of kids who are scheduled to go to college in a year or less, folks approaching retirement and others.
Enrollees pay $100 for the course, which covers the materials. They receive practical lessons on eliminating debt, building wealth, giving, budgeting, insurance, investing, how marketing affects our buying impulses, how different views of money can affect marriages and other topics.
During the first class, the attendees watch a DVD of Ramsey's presentation. From that point on, Reimer facilitates the exercises in the workbook.
Reimer likens FPU to the Weight Watchers program - the expectation of attending and weighing in at weekly group sessions helps participants to strive toward their goal with commitment and focus.
Across the country, more than 1 million families have attended FPU classes at their workplace, church, military base, local nonprofit organization, and more, according to the organization. Although this year's course at Mt. Zion is under way, other Lake Norman area churches have it scheduled.