Fall 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA3

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Helping Low-Income Elderly with Money Management


Joan C. Koonce
Assistant Professor
Department of Housing and Consumer Economics
University of Georgia-Athens

Why should Extension personnel and other adult educators be concerned about reaching low-income senior citizens with money management information? Is the size of the elderly population large enough to warrant this concern? Do low-income elderly persons need money management information? The elderly population is steadily growing and spending as much or more than younger people on many products and services.1 Thus, money management information that enables this group to make rational, informed financial choices is necessary.

Elderly's Money Management Needs

A qualitative study conducted at Ohio State University suggests that reaching low-income senior citizens with money management information using "traditional" Extension programs such as radio and TV, community workshops or seminars, home study courses, and other printed materials may not be successful.

This study was done in late Summer and early Fall 1986 and 1987, with a convenience sample of 99 low-income senior citizens age 65 years old and over. They were interviewed to gain insights into their financial management attitudes and behaviors, and specifically, their receptiveness and/or use of financial management information.

Of the 51.5% of the sample who said they searched for and used financial management information, nearly one-half cited personal sources such as relatives, friends, senior citizens' center personnel, and ministers, rather than non-personal sources. None listed what consumer educators would consider nonbiased sources of information such as money management literature distributed by sources other than the sellers of financial products.

A small percentage of the sample indicated they read money management literature (30.3%) and listened to TV or radio programs (39.4%) to learn more about managing money. However, the TV and radio programs mentioned by respondents weren't really money management programs. For example, the newspaper, soap operas, news, and grocery store advertisements were among the answers listed.

Several reasons were given by those respondents who indicated they didn't search for or use financial management information, including physical limitations such as bad eyesight, lack of understanding, reliance on religious beliefs, and disinterest. Some respondents felt they didn't have enough money to manage to warrant using financial management information.

Implications for Extension

It's Extension educators' responsibility to find effective methods of delivering information to low-income senior citizens. In fact, because obtaining information from other sources may be limited for this group of consumers, Extension may be their best alternative. Low-income senior citizens can probably benefit from many types of information, including money management information. However, effective methods of delivering this information to them are necessary to make a difference.

Tailoring programs to meet the needs of consumers is a difficult task since there are so many diverse groups of individuals. Many of the "traditional" Extension programs helpful to general audiences may not be effective in educating low-income senior citizens. When developing programs for this audience, their needs and characteristics should be considered.

Based on the results of this study, low-income senior citizens would be better reached through one-on-one personal contact. Respondents in the study weren't receptive to financial management publications such as Consumer Reports and Money magazine, or financial management programs on TV or radio. But, they were interested in talking to a friend, relative, minister, or director at the Senior Citizens' Center about financial matters. Time often doesn't permit Extension personnel to give these people the personal attention they need. However, agents/specialists could focus on intermediate providers. Training people low-income senior citizens trust and turn to for advice is one solution; training volunteers to work with low-income senior citizens is another. When using volunteers, someone the clientele knows and trusts should approach them first.

Note that some of the respondents in the survey didn't care about money management in general. Some were clearly not interested, and others just felt they didn't have enough money to worry about managing it. Extension personnel and other adult educators may not be able to help low-income senior citizens with these attitudes. But, hope exists for those who want to help themselves.

Extension and other adult educators need to seriously analyze the delivery methods used with low-income senior citizens and evaluate whether the methods are effective. Information can't benefit the people for which it's intended unless it's being received and used.


1. W. Lazer and E. H. Shaw, "How Older Americans Spend Their Money," American Demographics, IX (September 1987), 36-41.