Empowering Tennessee Families of Limited Resources with Quality Financial Education


Our current economic landscape tells the story of two realities. The Tennessee economy is strong with consumer spending up and unemployment down compared to last year (Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research, 2021). Increased wages and job availability have benefitted many Tennessee families affording them the ability to reevaluate their jobs and work-life balance. Additionally, in 2021, families received multiple waves of federal support including stimulus checks and child tax credits. For families of stable financial situations, these streams of additional income provided the ability to increase consumer spending, increase savings and reduce debt. 

Yet, this reality does not tell the entire story of Tennesseans’ lived experiences. Instead, the K-shaped nature of the pandemic recovery has translated into increased financial vulnerability for families that were already struggling pre-pandemic (Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, 2021). The COVID-19 pandemic has created a money crunch for these families. Reduced work hours, furloughs, and unemployment threaten financial livelihoods forcing families to reevaluate normal habits of earning, spending, and saving. For financially fragile families, the waves of federal support were often used to meet the costs of daily living leaving little remaining for savings and debt reduction. 

When COVID-19 hit, over 800,000 Tennessee households were already one emergency away from a financial crisis (United Way of Tennessee, 2020). As the pandemic continues, some Tennessee families face challenges meeting basic household needs. Navigating child care, obtaining adequate food resources, and paying for housing costs are top barriers currently facing both rural and urban Tennessee families (United Way of Tennessee, 2020). 


Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UT Extension Consumer Economics program has continued to implement direct and in-direct financial education initiatives all focused on improving the financial well-being of Tennessee families. Throughout 2021, Extension professionals, Agents, and volunteers made the following contacts: 33,893 contacts through group meetings, 4,102 contacts through onsite visits, 12,913 contacts through personal correspondence, 189,941 contacts through digital outreach, and 1,595,914 contacts through mass media outreach.

Selected Consumer Economics programs have focused on families of limited resources including programs such as bankruptcy counseling and education, financial education for students attending Title I schools, education for parents and consumers of asset constrained households, and workforce development education for individuals receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefits.

Through a state-wide network of certified Agents, Bankruptcy Counseling and Education are provided to individuals wishing to file for bankruptcy. During these sessions, participants learn how to better manage their monies including dealing with money emergencies through budgeting, reducing credit dependency, and goal setting. Students enrolled in Title I schools have the opportunity to increase their literacy skills while developing sound money habits – habits that are sure to last them throughout their lives. Through UT Extension’s newest program – Money Week – students learn how to identify money values, explain the differences between wants and needs, identify how money can be used, and manage money through use of a spend, save, share bank. Lessons offered through PACE (Parenting and Consumer Education) empower families to make wise financial and consumer decisions in the context of limited household resources. Finally, through Skill Up Tennessee, individuals receiving SNAP assistance are able to work with career navigators to pursue training that will lead to employment. Supported by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, this program helps move families of limited-resources toward self-sufficiency through jobs with living wages. 


Whether in a bankruptcy counseling session, in a group meeting, or working one-on-one with individuals preparing for new careers, UT Extension Consumer Economics is providing Real. Life. Solutions. to the most vulnerable Tennesseans, transforming their lives while transforming the state’s economy.

In 2021:

  • 20 participants successfully completed educational requirements for post-filing bankruptcy education.
  • 2 participants successfully completed educational requirements for pre-filing bankruptcy counseling.
  • 97 students and 8 teachers participated in a pilot of the Money Week program.
  • 85 of 97 (88%) students participating in Money Week increased their literacy skills
  • 97 of 97 (100%) students participating in Money Week learned the differences between wants and needs.
  • 97 of 97 (100%) students participating in Money Week learned how to manage money with spend, save, share banks.
  • 4,242 of 4,835 (88%) Consumer Economics participants increased their financial management skills.
  • 3,309 of 3,551 (93%) Consumer Economics participants identified ways to reduce spending.
  • 2,178 of 2,247 (97%) Consumer Economics participants learned who to pay first if they can’t pay everything.
  • 284 of 287 (99%) Consumer Economics participants felts more confident they could build wealth.
  • 1,208 of 1,411 (86%) Consumer Economics participants followed a spending plan.
  • 414 individuals from 74 counties participated in the Skill Up Tennessee program.
  • 266 Skill Up Tennessee clients participated in vocational/technical training at a Tennessee College of Applied Technology, community college, or other training provider; 54 earned a recognized credential in vocational/technical training, at least 19 have obtained employment, and 22 participated in job retention.

Public Value Statement

The percentage of Extension clientele reporting saving decreased from 80% in 2020 to 47% in 2021. However, the amount clientele reported saving for six months increased from $2,897,183 to $12,720,576 and a total of $8,141,958 in debt reduction. The total savings and debt reduction of Consumer Economics clientele for six months was $20,862,534. 

Based on 2020 data, for every dollar that is spent, the Skill Up Tennessee program adds a total of $1.92 back to the economy. The most recent data (FFY 2021) indicate a total of $876,664 was invested in the Skill Up Tennessee program resulting in economic impact of $1,683,195.

The economic value of volunteer’s time given to financial education programming totals $53,748. 

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