Growing up in Decatur, Ala., Kurt Schaffer learned the value of time and money early.
“My dad lost his job and had to go back to school. His company was downsized with no intent of hiring him back. When that happened, we didn’t go out to eat at all. Money was that tight. When I wanted something, I had to figure out how to get it,” Kurt remembers.
His parents had saved for his college but Kurt’s father needed to go back to school himself and had to take the college funds he had saved for his son to create income for the family.
“I had no allowance from then on so I started working in seventh grade,” Kurt says.
Delivering newspapers on his bicycle was more than just a way to earn money for Kurt. He cared about his customers and wanted to make them happy. He went beyond just tossing the bundled paper on the driveway; Kurt knew his neighbors would like to have it delivered on their porch and he took the time to do that.
His care in giving his customers what they wanted resulted in $150 to $200 in tips per month. The 12-year-old with no allowance was averaging about $500 a month. “I bought my own bike and everything I needed for my business and I grew my business,” he attests.
Today, Kurt still cares about the customer. His zealous approach to helping people with their finances or business decisions is not just for the mighty dollar. Sometimes, Kurt has helped others while knowing they may not even hire him. His faith in God enables him to trust for his provisions and Kurt knows that whatever he gives will somehow come back to him.
“My passion is helping people. I have made choices in my career where I didn’t gain anything. I volunteered for the Engel Foundation working with the group because they needed a website and no one was helping them. So my company built them a website,” he says.
Kurt and wife Tonya own episode49.
“Our company is all about web strategy, building websites or getting them promoted or we do consulting around the Internet,” Kurt explains.
Before forming the company, Kurt had been a project manager contracting with large companies. After being with a company for nine years, he was afforded one day’s notice that the contract was being cancelled.
“I had no real plan. No one had ever explained to me what being a contractor meant. I quickly learned on the other end of it what it meant,” Kurt relays.
Budgeting was important for him as he witnessed what his father had gone through and Kurt having the rug pulled out from under him with his own career.
With his knack for numbers and his pragmatic approach, Kurt knew how to plan and how to solve problems. His ideas worked and he wanted to share them with others.
Around 1997 after moving to Chattanooga, Kurt volunteered with many organizations. He became involved with the Chattanooga Chamber, working through its Ambassador Program training businesses that invest in the Chamber to get more out of it.
“I’ve done the program twice. I was a miserable failure the first time and a success the second time, so I can talk to people and say, ‘Let me help. I can tell you what worked and what didn’t.’ They also have a program called Reality Check where they go into schools and help students learn about budgets,” Kurt states.
Reality Check teaches students budgeting practices and emphasizes the connection between education and income by allowing students to role-play as heads of their household while providing for their families on a set budget.
“Volunteers have 12 stations set up such as - home, auto, daycare, insurance and various things to give a real-life scenario,” Kurt says. “Let’s say you are married, have two children, your spouse doesn’t work; or you are single with four children whatever… they give you an income figure and you have to visit all 12 stations and do something. It’s purely about budget. Sometimes you learn that you clearly don’t have enough money and have to get a second job. It is a snapshot in time to give them a realistic perspective on what it takes,” Kurt says.
The first high school in which Kurt volunteered he came across a girl who said, “I don’t get it. I don’t know what I am supposed to do."
Kurt explained to her what to do and she visited a couple of booths. The student would periodically check back with Kurt and she visited more of the booths. “You are on the right track,” he told her, “Go do more.”
At the end of the exercise, the student came back to Kurt in tears and she said to him, “I had no idea what all my parents did for me...”
It was at that point Kurt realized this was a program he wanted to be involved with. “I hold that program very high. The Chamber brings in the pack. They just need volunteers to man the stations. People from the community, parents, business owners, people from the Chamber, will come in and help the kids go through the implementation.”
While many were facing the downward spiral of the economy Kurt lent his understanding and knowhow.
With a background of helping people with their finances, Kurt says the biggest part of fixing the problem is through education.
“(It's about) educating them before they make a mistake and trying to help them learn about it before their only solution is bankruptcy. This was something that came at me at just the right time; it fit right with what I wanted to do,” Kurt affirms.
Around 2003, Kurt became certified through Dave Ramsey's Financial Counselor Training so that he could coach others when he started his own business called Hopelight. His own costs in having a formal organization that required more time than he had to put into it required Kurt to do something else.
“I figured that I could help people without having a formal organization and coach one-on-one to help people where they are,” Kurt says.
“I had a 60-year-old couple who had never had a savings account. They just could never save money. It was worse than living payday to payday. They could fill up two and a half sheets with their debt - doctors, friends, family and credit cards,” Kurt maintains.
Within 10 weeks after counseling with Kurt, the family had $1,300.00 in a savings account and they paid off a page and a half of debt.
“They needed to have direction and awareness with their spending. They were spending $500 a month in Coke - not the snorting kind but the ‘real thing’,” Kurt wisecracks.
“They just didn’t realize what they were spending for it. It was good that they didn’t smoke; they weren’t wasting money in that, but every time I would see them they had a Coke in their hand,” he says.
Kurt had asked them how much they were spending on Coke and they answered, “Not much.”
The first step was awareness. They had to add their costs of Coke including the tax each time they purchased it.
Kurt’s approach with the family was not to forbid them of the sugary, caffeinated drink, but to make a decision of how important it was to them.
“What I typically do is encourage them to have what I call ‘a blow fund’. Each person is allowed so much a month or week that they can fit in their budget and they can do whatever they want with it,” Kurt says.
“We found that the husband was the one who wanted the Cokes but everyone else was also drinking them because he did. So, we set up a plan that Coke didn’t come out of the family budget anymore - it’s gone, but if he wanted it he bought it out of his blow money,” Kurt explains.
“The first week he said, ‘I am not paying for it’ but it was the same amount of money. All of a sudden he had a different shift in mentality. What is priority? He stopped cold turkey and freed up $500 just like that!” Kurt vows.
“I am a coach, but they have to make the choice that is best for them. It’s got to be their decision. If Coke is what you want, that is great - but what car are you going to let go of so you can have it?” Kurt reasons.
“Let’s talk about the options. If you don’t want to give up smoking – fine …what are we going to give up?”
The key to success in budgeting is in giving the client control.
“You either control life or life controls you,” Kurt says. “This allows people to take back control over their life. The interesting thing is this benefits me as much as it does anyone else. I coach myself too.”
Kurt had counseled pro-bono because his company wasn’t quite ready to launch. “Once I solidify some goals with episode49, I want to have the time to volunteer more in the community again, such as the United Way programs and to do more of the Reality Check program with the Chamber,” he declares.
“We are in a growth stage right now. I may not be the right fit for everyone, but everybody has a goal,” Kurt says, “What I would like to do is help people find what that is for their traditional or non-traditional business and figure out how to unleash that.”