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Hand putting coin in model house bank

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Tasha Brown counts herself as a victim of Calgary's last economic boom.

The 2006 spike in housing prices and the near zero rental vacancy rate spawned a variety of illegal real estate schemes, and Ms. Brown, then a part-time child care worker, full-time single mother of three, lost a hefty damage deposit to a scam.

The situation left her family temporarily homeless and shuffling between church basements for shelter.

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"It was three months, but it felt like three years," Ms. Brown recalled.

Pledging to never to be homeless again, she embarked on a single goal: becoming a homeowner. And just a few months ago, the 33-year-old woman and her children, aged 15, 11 and nine, finally moved into their first home.

But she couldn't have done it without help. And now, as November promotes financial literacy, she's talking to people about how they too can brush up on their money management skills to reach their goals.

More than three quarters of Canadians are not fully confident with their math and money skills, and more than half say they could use some help, according to a survey released last spring for the non-profit group, ABC Life Literacy Canada.

That poll, conducted by Ipsos Reid, also found that respondents saved on average, $211 per month, but a shocking 40 per cent didn't sock away a single penny.

The admissions are particularly striking at a time when household debt, driven by rock bottom interest rates, has risen to a record high, which even prompted the International Monetary Fund to raise red flags.

Ms. Brown's quest for financial comfort lead her to Momentum, which was at one time an arm of the Mennonite Central Committee of Alberta. But from its past focus on employment programs aimed at new Canadians, it has expanded to include small business and computer training, micro business loans and personal finance education.

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In the last 10 years, 12,400 people have gone through the Calgary-based group's financial management courses, with 3,000 participants in the last year alone. The courses teach everything from household budgeting to managing credit cards as well as where to find deals and how to use coupons.

"It's an everyone issue," said programs director Jeff Loomis, "But financial literacy has a disproportionate impact on people with lower incomes."

The non-profit organization also offers a matching program for people to "earn while you learn" as long as they have their eye on a "productive asset," such as education for themselves, their children or to buy a home.

Momentum has a number of funding partners including governments, businesses and other charitable organizations. It offers a three-to-one match with a cap, but it usually means if a participant saves $50 a month, Momentum will kick in another $100.

"If we can get more funding from business and from government, then we can have more programs," Mr. Loomis said.

It takes a long time and a lot of work to save, but over the past decade, 80 people have use it to help purchase their first home. Ms. Brown was one of them.

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She also added to her savings through another Calgary charitable group, the Owen Hart Foundation That organization, which was established by Martha Hart in memory of her late husband, a wrestler who died during a performance, also offers a savings match program to those who have completed the Momentum financial education program.

Between both programs, Ms. Brown amassed enough savings for a 10-per-cent down payment on her first home – a two storey with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a fenced backyard. Her mortgage payment per month is less than what she was paying in rent.

"They helped you step by step," Ms. Brown said of the programs.

She is also working full-time and has a home-party business on the side to put away more savings.

"We will never be homeless again," she insisted.

What's her next financial goal?

"Save for our first family vacation," she said. "The kids have never been on a plane."

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