It took a home purchase for Karen Rubin to get focused on making a budget and balancing a checkbook on a quest to become more financially savvy.
That determination recently paid off for the single mother of three when she was named the $10,000 grand prize winner of Florida Commerce Credit Union's weLiveFIT! challenge. Over a 10-month period, Rubin reduced her debt by $4,500, increased her savings by more than $30,000 and boosted her credit score from 662 to 758.
"And I am most proud of bringing up my credit score-those elusive folks with that nebulous formula at Fair Isaacs met their match, eh," Rubin wrote on her blog posted on www.welivefitchallenge.com Jan.19, the day she was announced the winner.
"But I would like to point out that while this challenge pressed me into 'extreme savings mode' for the time the cameras were rolling, the process of getting 'financially fit' is a lot like getting physically fit-there are no magic potions or spells (drat), but there is reward for working hard and making tough choices," Rubin wrote.
Seven families participated in the nearly year-long weLiveFIT! challenge. Each family worked closely with FCCU financial coaches who evaluated their financial status, developed a fitness plan to follow and provided additional support throughout the rigorous competition. Each household was eligible for the $10,000 prize based on its progress by the end of the challenge.
With help from her financial coaches, Rubin learned how to create a budget and set achievable financial goals. She paid off several of her credit cards, taught her kids how to start saving and recently got a full-time job with steady income.
Over the challenge's 10-month period, the seven families collectively increased their credit scores by 469 points, increased their savings by more than $72,000 and decreased their debts by approximately $44,869, according to FCCU.
"While one of the families here today walked away with a check for $10,000, Florida Commerce has the satisfaction of knowing that this competition also rewarded our community with useful information and real world financial advice," said FCCU CEO Cecilia Homison.
The $300 million FCCU in Tallahassee shared the families' stories on monthly Webisodes that aired on the challenge Web site www.welivefitchallenge.com and Comcast cable. The families also used social media and blogs to share their experiences with the community. While their journey to financial freedom was rewarding, it was not always easy. One of the contestants bowed out of the competition early citing work and family demands.
Rubin, who earned a doctorate degree in history from Florida State University, had worked seasonally and part-time when the challenge started. Her goal was to develop a savings plan and create daily financial maintenance habits. At the Jan. 19 press conference, she thanked her financial coaches for hanging in there with her.
"And anyone who really knows me can vouch for my illiteracy with both math and budgeting-but with practice and positive reinforcement for a job well done-it does get...well, maybe not "EASY" (because who doesn't have to FIGHT that impulse for a warm oatmeal raisin cookie?) but it becomes more comfortable...it's a different lifestyle," Rubin wrote.