Financial Freedom: Have a wonderful, financially healthy holiday season!

(Note: This post is part of an on-going series on financial literacy. Two of the goals of Prosper Waco have to do with accumulating wealth: (1) Reduce the percentage of Waco-area households living without three months’ worth of savings if they were not able to work. (2) More than 50 percent of Waco households will have a net worth above $15,000. Our hope is that this series will help move our community towards accomplishing these goals both by sharing information about some of the challenges, complexities and practicalities of managing finances.  For other posts in this series, click here: Financial Freedom. — ABT)

By Phil Oliver

Welcome to undoubtedly the most generous, unplanned, impulsive time of spending in America—–Thanksgiving and Christmas!!

These wonderful times encourage us to give and spend freely on the ones we love and causes we passionately care about.

So, how do YOU plan to balance the WANT to give with the healthy ABILITY to give without growing debt that will last long into next year? This is the question that many families and individuals struggle with as they face ever tightening budgetary situations.

I addressed the main component of this desire in my very first blog about motivation.   Refuse to give in to the ever increasing pattern of proving and buying love with stuff, but rather deepen and extend love with time, involvement and more stress-free planned giving/spending.  Each family and individual can have a WONDERFUL giving experience as they realistically plan for the stuff and then intentionally budget their time for more longer-lasting relational investing.

First, the Christmas gift giving season demands advanced planning.  Luckily, it happens each year at the same time, so it can be expected and anticipated.   Ideally, each family would have a little savings set aside every month for gifts and celebrations that would include a large portion for Christmas– gift giving, travel, food, and decorations.

The reality for most is that this doesn’t happen.   As the holidays approach the excitement (and tension) grows for the individual gift purchases and with it the expectations to show love and appreciation with stuff.

What to do?

  • If you haven’t yet set a Christmas spending plan, do it NOW!!
  • Determine ALL the people, agencies, organizations and ministries that you plan to give to and prioritize.
  • Determine closely and reasonably how much money you have available to spend.   This could be from your current savings, extra work, or even spending less on yourself.
  • Let your entire household help decide on any spending outside your direct family.  DON’T BORROW ON ANY ANTICIPATED IRS REFUND!!
  • Write down the individual people and organizations and divide the money you currently have to give to each.  Then, you can also include an additional percentage of any extra money that comes in before the gift is given.  You would probably want that to be for close family members.
  • Use your listed amounts and look/search online and sales for items that you and your family want to purchase for the best deals.  Also, consider gently used items that are more budget friendly.
  • Commit as a family to follow your budget without borrowing or going into more debt.   Involve even the youngest in the process–make it a game and be creative together!
  • Plan for shared shopping, buying, and wrapping.   It then becomes an exciting, shared giving experience/memory.

Here are some great apps that may also help in planning:

  • EveryDollar (free for Android and iOS) — Christmas and all year
  • Santa’s Bag – Christmas Gift List (free) — Specifically Christmas spending

Here are some links for more ideas to help:

As you and your family begin to look at areas of seasonal financial health and security, I hope some of this information will help to propel your progress to include intentional generosity in ALL your financial planning!

Finally, if you have decided you want to start a comprehensive financial plan for your family, please check out the Federal Reserve’s Free publications and web resources that have been endorsed by many of our local financial institutions as well as Prosper Waco:

Have a WONDERFUL, FINANCIALLY HEALTHY holiday season with family and friends!!

Phil OliverPhil Oliver is a retired educator.   He is an independent Financial Coach, active mentor, and community activist.   He has spent the last 8 years empowering individuals and families to take charge of their finances through his FLOW system.  He is active in many community efforts to grow financial literacy and responsibility including Prosper Waco and Citizens for Responsible Lending.  He consults with many local organizations to teach and inspire their efforts to empower clients in personal finances.  You can contact him at:

 The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.





Waco Diaper Bank: 1-year-old and growing fast!

By Ellen Filgo

The Waco Diaper Bank has been around for a whole year!  For those of you who haven’t heard of us yet, the Waco Diaper Bank is dedicated to providing diapers to Waco and McLennan County families in need.  This past year we distributed over 35,000 diapers – that’s over 4000 little bottoms dry for a day.  Last year, when the organization launched, I wrote about why it’s so important that babies and toddlers have access to a supply of clean diapers: without them, there are not only health risks, but there are barriers to childcare and lost days at work and school for parents.  State and federal assistance programs don’t provide diapers. The cost of diapers is high, at roughly $80-$100 a month per child.

A few months ago, I attended the Diaper Banks in America conference, put on by the National Diaper Bank Network (of which the Waco Diaper Bank has just become a member).  While there I heard many stories from people around the country who have started diaper banks in their local communities, prompted by the startling statistic that 1 in 3 families in America struggle to afford diapers.  Being a part of a newer, smaller organization, it was great to hear from more established diaper banks about how they operate, what their budgets look like, how they apply for grants, about the types of programs they provide, the agencies they work with, how they market their message, mobilize their networks, etc.  The conference gave me a ton of information to help grow the Waco Diaper Bank and serve more families in our community.

While giving diapers to families in need helps in the short term, diaper need is a larger problem.  So while at the conference, we also heard from a California state representative, Lorena Gonzalez, who co-sponsored, with bipartisan support, a bill to eliminate the sales tax on disposable diapers.  While it passed in the California Senate, it unfortunately met with a veto on the Governor’s desk. Nevertheless, she is vowing to continue the fight to support families in need.  After her talk, I was eager to partner with other diaper bank leaders in Texas. Together, I hope to find sympathetic legislators who will address this issue here in Texas.

In the coming year, I hope the Waco Diaper Bank can serve the community by providing diapers and by advocating for larger changes. That’s how I would love for the Waco Diaper Bank to progress over this next year.  If you would like to be involved, please contact me at

One way to help out this December is to be involved with our 2nd annual December Diaper Drive.  From December 1-14, we will be collecting diapers at locations around Waco.  Last year the Waco community outdid itself in generosity, collecting over 28,000 diapers. Can we beat that number this year? I would love for you to help us reach that goal.

There are other ways to help as well! Are you planning on throwing a holiday party?  Ask your guests to bring a package of diapers Are you doing some online Christmas shopping?  Consider our gift-in-kind wishlist.  Are you evaluating your year-end giving?  You can donate online to help the Waco Diaper Bank with the acquisition and distribution of diapers.

Waco has a lot of need, but Waco also has a lot of heart.  Together, we can help babies and toddlers in our community.

ellen-filgoEllen Filgo is a research librarian at Baylor and a Wacoan of 8.5 years. She loves living in Sanger-Heights with her husband, her stepson and her two energetic little boys. She has been known to get sidetracked researching the answer to a random question casually asked in a Facebook post.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.



Homeowner’s excellent experience with rooftop solar: $3.13 electricity bill

By Alan Northcutt

Solar panels, also called photovoltaic cells, were installed on my roof around New Year’s Day 2016.  Since that time my average electricity bill has been $3.13.  In fact, for 3 of those months my bill was $0.00. Yes, $0.00.  So I would like to share my amazing experience with solar energy through a practical overview applicable to Central Texas.

Cost. Although the exact price of a home solar system depends on multiple variables, I will provide a general example for illustration. Importantly, now is an excellent time to go solar in light of plummeting panel prices and available incentives.  A 7.5kW system (producing about 850kWh per month) has an invoice price of approximately $25,000.  If the home is within their service area, ONCOR’s generous incentive would lower the purchase price to $20,000.  And at income tax time, the 30% federal tax credit of $6000 would further lower the final price to only $14,000.  The average time to pay for a system with electric bill savings is 7 to 8 years.  After that, the system generates income, through these lower or absent electric bills.

Obstacles.  The primary requirement is that the roof be unobstructed by trees or other objects. (But if an obstruction exists, many installers erect ground based solar arrays in the customer’s backyard.) A south facing roof generates maximum energy, but is not mandatory.  Finally, homeowners’ associations will often assert that rooftop solar is not allowed.  Fortunately, this claim is false, and these associations are not able to restrict solar installations in Texas.  In reality, solar panels are not an aesthetic detriment to the roof. Their sleek, black futuristic appearance is actually an improvement over mundane gray shingles.

Installation.  Waco is fortunate to have an excellent, experienced local installer in Holtek Solar, my provider.  One advantage of a local business is the rapid attention paid to any questions or problems.  Another option is Freedom Solar, based in Austin, which offers a no money down plan, with monthly payments.  Installation involves attaching the panels to the roof, attaching the inverter (converts DC to usable AC) to an outside wall, and wiring the system components, connecting to the existing electric service.  The process surprisingly only takes a couple of days.

Operation.  One delight of home solar is monitoring the function of the system.  Through one’s computer or smart phone app, the system data is displayed: weather conditions; daily output graph; weekly, monthly and annual outputs; individual panel generation; and cumulative cost savings in dollars.  And through net metering, the excess production during the sunny hours is credited by the grid provider, lowering one’s electricity bill.

Maintenance.   With no moving parts, solar panels are essentially care free.  If the data monitor does show an output drop from a given panel, a cleansing spray of water is corrective.  But in 10 months of operation, my system has required no maintenance.

Rationale.  In conclusion, the reasons to install rooftop solar are multiple:

  • Once the system cost is recovered, monthly electricity bill savings represent income.   Further, the systems are guaranteed to produce 80% of initial output for 25 years!
  • Home value may increase 3 to 4% upon the addition of rooftop solar systems, according to a 2011 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • Conversion of the world’s energy system to renewables is a race against time, to avoid climate change catastrophe.  Installation of residential solar is a powerful contribution toward winning this race.
  • The immediate lightening of one’s greenhouse gas footprint is a potent step to combat anthropogenic climate change.
  • Decreasing the use of fossil fuel energy helps combat its serious health impacts, including lung disease, cardiovascular disease, and 30,100 premature US deaths per year.

“Sunshine is Nature’s hug and spirit breath to the earth,” wrote Terri Guillemets.  I concur with this sentiment, and invite others to consider powering their homes with this limitless, clean, zero carbon resource.

alan-northcutt-2Alan D. Northcutt, M.D., is a local physician and director of the Waco Friends of Peace/Climate (









Justification.  The reasons to install rooftop solar are multiple:




Where did the time go? Some tips to finish strong!

By Diego Loredo

It’s already the end of the semester! If you had told me at the beginning of the semester that it would be over before I knew it, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. However, the end of the semester is already here. And, all of the assignments and projects that I pushed off are finally catching up with me!

I have three group projects, one presentation, and three final exams to take. Two of those group projects are for one class and the other group project (along with the presentation) is for another class. I also have an exam on Monday, along with the final exams during the last week of the semester. Overall, I have quite a bit of work to do. It’s easy for all of your work to pile up on you during the last few weeks of the semester. So here’re a few tips on managing your work at the end of the semester, as well as a few final exam tips.

Use your time-off well

I know it’s hard to do work during a break but it’s a good idea to do it anyway. I know a lot of professors like to assign work during the Thanksgiving break so most students will be doing work anyway. Don’t do too much work during the break or you’ll burn yourself out too. But, dedicate a day or two to catch up on work or study for upcoming exams.

Keep in touch with group members

If you’re doing a group assignment, make sure to keep in touch with your group members so that all of you know what to do. Don’t be that group member who doesn’t ever reach out to the other members.

Bring textbooks with you back home

It’s easy to forget that you have work to do when you’re going back home for the break. If you have to study or have work to do, bring whatever you need that will help (textbooks, notes, etc.). Make sure to have what you need so that you won’t have to drive all the way back or blow off the assignment.

Keep track of your exam schedule

Mark on your calendar when and where your exams will be. I have a friend who missed an exam because he didn’t check the syllabus right and went to class during the wrong time and missed the exam, ultimately failing the class. Make sure ahead of time that you know when your exams are, so that you don’t risk missing them.

I know how difficult the last few weeks of the semester can be. I’m taking a senior level class and all of the seniors there are stressing over the final project. I’m still a junior but I’m still stressing out just as much if not more than them. I tried to come up with these tips based on my personal experience and hopefully they can help other students who are preparing for finals or projects. Good luck!  Finish strong!

diego loredo - 2Diego Loredo is a junior at the University of North Texas and is majoring in public relations. He is a scholarship recipient of the Brazos Education Foundation, otherwise known as “Brazos Scholars.”  He graduated from University High School in 2014. He plans on working in sports PR or for a nonprofit. He loves to play soccer and is a huge FC Dallas fan. Have something that you would like Diego to write about or have a problem that you would like to ask him? Shoot him an email at

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.


WISD innovations that all Wacoans should celebrate: #1 – Terrific Dual Credit Opportunities

(WISD is working hard for the children in our community.  Today’s blog post is the first in a series of five WISD innovations that every Wacoan should learn about and celebrate! — ABT)

Psst! Hey! Waco ISD eighth graders! Did you know that you can earn an associates degree, at no charge to you, BEFORE you graduate from high school?

Take a minute to absorb that statement.  A college degree.  No cost to you. Before you graduate from high school.

It may seem a little intimidating to start thinking about college classes when you are in eighth grade (or 9th, or 10th or 11th grade), but there are plenty of people at Waco ISD who want to answer your questions and help you succeed!  Why not check it out?  Dual credit could set you on a path that can save you a pile of college tuition money and open up all kinds of new opportunities for you.

If you were worried about how you were going to pay for a 2-year degree, you can do it while you are in high school at the district’s expense!  WISD pays for your tuition and will even pay for the books and fees. Yes, you have to plan ahead and work hard.  But, Yes, it’s very possible.   If you were planning on earning a four-year degree (or beyond), then you can basically get the first two years for free.  Who wouldn’t want to do that?

“What? What?” you say, “Why didn’t I know about this?” Well, it’s pretty new.

Up until June of 2015, dual credit options were much more limited – you had to be in eleventh or twelfth grade, and you could only take a maximum of two classes per semester. But, Texas House Bill 505, which was signed into law in 2015, removed the restrictions on dual credit courses and opened the door to allow school districts and colleges to use state funds to help pay for dual credit classes. Then, in November of 2015, Waco voters ratified an additional tax to support WISD; part of that money is earmarked to help pay for dual credit. Lucky for you, Waco ISD has taken full advantage of these two changes to offer you a treasure trove of dual credit opportunities.  Your options include everything from taking a few classes here and there to completing an entire associates degree while still in high school.

Here are some of the possibilities:

  • Accelerate Early Degree program – This is a big deal! If you enter this program in ninth grade you can graduate with both a high school diploma and any one of several associates degrees from MCC including the following: Allied Health, General Business, Information Systems and Applications, Criminal Justice, General Science (designed to transfer to a four-year degree), Liberal Arts (designed to transfer to a four-year degree).
  • MCC + 1 Program – Through this program you can complete 18-23 dual credit hours during high school. This allows you to complete an associate’s degree within one calendar year at MCC.  You don’t have to start this one until you are a junior.
  • Advanced Manufacturing Academy (GWAMA) /Advanced Health Care academy (GWACHA) –In both of these programs, you can earn dual credit toward a degree or technical certificate from MCC or TSTC.
  • Just take a few classes – Not sure you want to plunge into a whole degree or certificate program while you are in high school? You don’t have to.  But, you might want to take just one or two dual credit classes.  That is certainly a possibility as well.

Want to learn more about it?  The Advanced Academic Services Department at Waco ISD is working with the Waco Foundation to offer some student/parent workshops to give you all the details.  The next session is on November 29 and it’s all about dual credit: What it is, why it is beneficial, how to enroll, and key deadlines to make sure you have the opportunity to take advantage of all the possibilities open to you. The ACCELERATE Early Degree program will also be explained in preparation for the December 1 opening of the application window.  Target audience: 8th graders, Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors and their parents. Date:  November 29. Time:   6:15-7:15pm. Location:  Waco High School, 2020 N 42nd St., Performing Arts Center.  Even if you can’t make the meeting, you can still get the information you need.  Get in touch with Scott McClanahan at Waco ISD.  Call 254-755-9473 or email

Psst!  Hey! Waco community! I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that people who earn a workforce certificate or college degree almost always end up making more money than people with a high school diploma or less.  The question is not whether our young people need that higher level of education, but how we can make sure they get it. It’s a complicated question. Dual credit can certainly be part of the answer, and Waco ISD is one of the leaders in central Texas when it comes to making dual credit available to our students.  It is an innovation we should all celebrate.

Some our Waco ISD students face many barriers to obtaining a degree or certificate, but for some it’s a matter of knowing the options available and having someone encourage them to take advantage of those options.   WISD is doing its part to make dual credit options available – let’s do our part to make sure every student in Waco knows about the possibilities and has someone cheering them on and encouraging them to take advantage of all WISD has to offer!

Ashley Thornton French FryThis Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she works at Baylor, helps out with Act locally Waco, and facilitates the Waco Foundational Employment Network which is a part of Prosper Waco.  She likes to walk and doesn’t mind at all if you honk and wave when you see her.

 The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.