Originally published in the Florida Times-Union
Mention saving money and Norman Foy whips out his “props,” tools that he uses to teach a United Way of Northeast Florida RealSense financial education workshop that is part of a larger six-week course. Pointing out the price difference between generic and name-brand cereals, Foy hopes to inspire workshop participants to cut back a little at a time so that small steps build into a better future.
“If I can get them to take one or two things,” Foy said. “For example, getting their credit report, then I’m happy.”
As participants leave the class, Foy is always hopeful that his workshop will have long-term impact. The day he overheard a participant call for her credit score immediately after the workshop, he knew he’d started the ball rolling for her. By partnering with Ulrich Research to measure effectiveness, the RealSense team validates the workshops are making a difference through a three-year Better Off study.
An economics professor for many years in the New York City area, Foy brought a wealth of knowledge to RealSense when he moved to Jacksonville two years ago. He knows that the stakes for his current students are high as they work to achieve financial stability for their families.
“I originally thought I’d come to Jacksonville and teach a few college courses as an adjunct,” Foy said. “I saw an article about RealSense and wondered if I could help more than in an MBA program.”
Numbers have always mattered to Foy.
“I’ve always found numbers fun,” Foy said. “The only challenges have been on specific approaches.”
Numbers mattered a lot to Foy as he was growing up. First, he watched his mother struggle to raise two children in difficult New York and Boston neighborhoods, and then he made his own way through school, military service and into the corporate world.
Foy said that learning to train others, either during his military experience or time with IBM brought him into a contentious, often argumentative, system that taught him to make his points quickly and effectively.
“They were hostile audiences,” Foy said.
Becoming a professor allowed him to have better interactions with people and research methods that would help make economic advances. Teaching through RealSense brought Foy back to the practical reality of economic choices people have to make every day.
Foy knows that the steps his clients take now help them make economic advances a little bit at a time, and each little step matters.
“They tell me little ways to save money,” Foy said. “One family shared that their hot water tank was in a closet near the back door. The last person out the door turns it off during the day, and the first person home turns it back on. They said, ‘There’s no reason the water has to be hot all day long.’ For me, it’s giving them an opportunity to make things a little better.”