June 23rd, 2009
12:34 PM GMT
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NEW YORK - ā€œIā€™m at a point in my life where I was not opening envelopes ... I was not looking at stuff and I need to make a decision to be active in my life.ā€

Sound familiar? It did to me. The quote is from a woman attending a seminar I sat in on as part of our Road to Recovery coverage.

Each week about 30 women gather to participate in a class that is designed to help them regain control of their financial lives. It is a bit like weight watchers, but in this case they are counting coins, not calories.

As I listened to their stories, I felt an immediate connection. I also have a pile of statements about my retirement funds that I have been too busy – and secretly too stressed – to look at!

It turns out that many of us are carrying around the dirty secret that we are not nearly as informed about our finances as we should ... or certainly could be.

Gallia Icon is out to change that. A personal finance advisor, she and her co-instructor M.P. Dunleavy started these weekly money classes to help give women a basic education in personal finance.

The courses, which last for 12 weeks, are set-up like a support group – complete with weekly check-ins. The women set concrete goals at the start of the course and then give updates each week on the progress they are making.

The dozen or so ladies we visited came from very different backgrounds but they had one thing in common: For too long they had let other people make decisions about their money.

"Women, in particular, do not make money a priority and tend to let partners handle much of the responsibility. If they are taking care of the household finances it is usually rushed at 10 p.m. at night after they are done working and have put the kids down for the night," says Gichon.

The classes cover everything from understanding mutual funds to saving strategies to wills and life insurance. In the sessions no question is off limits. Participants say the female-only format helps keep the conversation free and open.

I went in not knowing what to expect, but I left inspired. After putting up pretenses for years, these women were ready to bare all. They asked detailed questions and offered each other support and information.

After just a couple of classes, many had already made big changes. One woman had started reviewing her retirement program at work and making changes to her fund allocation. Another had paid down debt and was ready to invest for the first time.

And – my favorite – had moved all her information online and was getting ready to sack her current adviser whom she felt had always talked down to her!

In this tough economy it is easy to ignore this part of life and hope the problems just go away, but they rarely do. These women show that with a little instruction and the support of your peers you can regain control and banish that nagging voice that has been telling you could do better when it comes to your money.

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