OLYMPIA -Those in search of tips or advice on how to weather the slower economy didn't have to look far Saturday as downtown's Olympia Center hosted the Economic Survival Fair, an annual event organized by the Volunteer Center of Lewis, Mason and Thurston Counties.
Although number of people who attended Saturday – about 200 to 300 – was about the same as last year, there were fewer volunteers and booths, Volunteer Center Executive Director Sara Ballard acknowledged. She said that was by design so that visitors could get more one-one-one attention.
“We felt like we were able to help at a deeper level rather than just give them information,” Ballard said.
The Volunteer Center, too, is recovering from an economic blow; $500,000 was cut from its annual budget after it lost a contract with a company that helped provide transportation for Medicaid patients. Since the announcement, the center has received support from many people, Ballard said, and last week the center formed a consultant team.
Taking advantage of the fair were Jeff and Stephanie Storvick, who filed their income taxes for free Saturday. Although the Lacey couple wound up owing the federal government $270, they’re both happy to be employed, they said.
“The outcome wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping for,” Jeff Storvick said, but he added that the fair offered a good service. Last year, they received a $1,200 refund, largely because Jeff was still in school and student-teaching. Blake Marzloff, who oversaw the free tax preparation site, said Saturday’s services generated about $50,000 in tax refunds for filers.
In addition to free tax-preparation services, there was advice on financial planning, credit counseling and healthy meal planning on a budget.
Olympia Food Co-op member Alicia Elliott staffed a table at which she pointed out the benefits of buying bulk ingredients and food staples for $30 at the co-op, compared with spending $45 for about the same amount of food at a typical grocery store. Using the ingredients she had purchased, such as kidney beans, spices and vegetables, Elliott had whipped up a chili that would provide about 12 servings, she said.
Credit counseling, too, was a popular destination. Those who stopped by the credit-counseling room asked questions about their credit reports, simple budgeting techniques, mortgage issues and how to cover debts on a limited income, said Ashley Adami, a financial specialist with a nonprofit credit counseling company called Clearpoint.
In tough times, here are some tips to remember, her colleague, Cainim Truax, said: Track your expenses and see where the money is going. If you fall behind on credit card payments or mortgage payments, be proactive and don’t hide from your problems. If you don’t address the problem, then you never understand what your options are, he said.
The state Department of Financial Institution’s Jeremy Lushene, who works in education and outreach for the state agency, also was on hand to explain the basics of creating wealth.
“Everyone can find a way to save a dollar,” he said, adding that it starts by paying yourself first every month, followed by cost-cutting and setting financial goals.