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University of Illinois Extension’s Money Mentors program

When you think of University of Illinois Extension, you might think of programs related to agriculture, such as 4-H, Master Gardeners, or even nutrition education programs. But University of Illinois Extension also offers assistance with personal finances to people through its Money Mentors program, which is currently seeking volunteers.

Through the Money Mentors program, University of Illinois Extension staff train volunteer community members in issues related to personal finance and then pair those volunteers with people interested in receiving free financial guidance and advice. Money Mentors work individually with clients, sometimes briefly and sometimes long-term, to help them achieve their financial goals.

The services that Money Mentors provide depend on the needs of the people they’re working with. Cayla Waters, who coordinates the Money Mentors program through her role as University of Illinois Extension Consumer Economics Program Coordinator, noted that not everyone who seeks out the Money Mentors program is “down and out”. Some people have specific savings goals, while others need tips for controlling superfluous spending or developing a budget.

Money Mentors use a number of strategies to determine people’s “financial personalities,” which affect how they think about money. Then, Money Mentors help identify aspects of a person’s spending habits that they can reasonably change in order to improve their financial situation. In the process, volunteers frequently learn about their own financial personalities and budgeting strategies.

Money Mentors is completely free for community members to participate in, regardless of the type personal money management advice they are seeking. The only kinds of guidance Money Mentors can’t provide is in terms of taxes and business finances.

I spoke with Waters to learn more about the program.


Smile Politely: What is the mission of University of Illinois Extension?

Cayla Waters: University of Illinois Extension is the flagship outreach effort of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, offering research-based educational programs to residents of all of Illinois’ 102 counties and beyond.

SP: Can you describe a bit about Money Mentors? How does Money Mentors fit into University of Illinois Extension’s mission?

Waters: Money Mentors is a network of trained University of Illinois Extension volunteers that work one-on-one with people to help them improve their personal money management skills. In addition to working with clients individually, Mentors also provide community outreach and support through displays, community talks, or other outreach projects. Providing outreach and education is University of Illinois Extension’s overall goal and it helps us fulfill our mission.

SP: How would you describe the clients that make use of Money Mentors?

Waters: We have a wide range of clients that apply for our help. Some clients are making six figures, while others are struggling to live on public assistance, and everything in between. One trait that all of our clients possess is a willingness to improve their lives and financial management skills.

SP: What kinds of financial decisions or difficulties can Money Mentors help with?

Waters: Money Mentors are available to help with a wide range of financial challenges, including: developing a budget, organizing finances, establishing financial goals, building savings, and managing credit.

SP: Who are the Money Mentors volunteers? What are their professional backgrounds, and what interested them in volunteering for this program?

Waters: We have an array of volunteer backgrounds. Although most people would think you have to have a background in financial planning to volunteer as a Money Mentor, you do not. We train volunteers with the necessary skills to successfully mentor clients. Some of our volunteers work full time and others are retired or unemployed. Currently we have Mentors who work in management, banking, fitness instruction, higher education, public works, social services, accounting and nonprofits. Mentors have different reasons for why they’ve chosen to get involved, but it all comes down to one commonality: they want to help.


To learn more about Money Mentors, check out our conversation with Cayla Waters and Crystal Odoms, a current Money Mentors volunteer, on Smile Politely Radio

Also, the University of Illinois Money Mentors program is currently accepting volunteer applications. You can find the application online here or contact Cayla Waters at or (217) 442-8615. Volunteer training begins September 30, 2014. An application, interview, and background check are required before being admitted into the program.

Photos courtesy of University of Illinois Extension.

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