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Dollar Sighs : Many women have been burned by not knowing how to manage money, but an Oxnard course offers help.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Years ago my spouse and I got a real education when we bought our first house. We discovered that we should never hang wallpaper together, and we learned about insurance and how to mulch strawberries for a Nebraska winter.

But the most valuable lesson of that heady experience came from the former owner, whom we knew only as “Mrs. Whitney” and who gave us our shakedown tour of the house.

She lived 40 years in that house and never knew how to shut off the gas or water. And a year after being widowed, she was still in the dark about finances. “My husband always took care of that,” she would say.

According to information from the Oxnard College Re-Enty Center, 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Women are increasingly heads of households, often with children to support. In 1989, half of older women were widows. A growing number of women are choosing to remain single. And the education level of women is growing along with their participation in the work force.

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Nevertheless, many women such as Mrs. Whitney do not understand or participate in personal or family financial planning and management.

“Women have a different life experience than men,” said Pati Longo, California spokeswoman for AARP Women’s Initiative Program. “When they were younger, midlife and older women were socialized into marriage and their husbands took control of finances. Now many find themselves divorced or widowed, and they have never written a check before.”

Longo said many women do not know where the wills are, the amount of insurance coverage they have, or if their husbands have opted for higher retirement benefits instead of death benefits.

“Many women don’t know that if they have been married to a man at least 10 years, they are eligible to collect Social Security when he starts to collect, whether they are divorced or not,” Longo added.

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These are some of the issues behind an eight-week lecture/workshop series on basic financial information from a woman’s perspective, co-sponsored by the American Assn. of Retired Persons, Oxnard College Re-Entry Center and the Women’s Financial Information Coalition of Ventura County.

“We strengthen the financial skills of women, including estate planning, insurance, social security, legal matters, taxes and investments,” said Longo. In its fourth year, the program entitled “Take Charge of Your Life by Taking Charge of Your Money,” is taught by about 30 trained volunteers and professionals from the community who donate their services.

The program is open to both men and women of all ages. But 60% or more of the participants will be senior women, according to Dr. Priscilla Partridge de Garcia, director of the Oxnard College Re-Entry Center.

This is the first time that the program has been sponsored by Oxnard College. It is also the first time that there is no fee for the program or workshop materials. In addition, people can earn college credits or continuing education units if they fulfill all the requirements.

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Because 75% of care givers are women--wives, daughters and daughters-in-law--a new session on care giving and funeral arrangements has been added.

“It is aimed at baby boomers caught between raising children and caring for aging parents or relatives,” said de Garcia.

De Garcia said the program proceeds in “baby steps” so no one is intimidated. “Organizing your financial matters is a big job and very scary if you’ve never done it before,” she said. “But if you empower yourself through this training, you can do well with your income.”

* WHERE AND WHEN

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The Basic Financial Information Program will meet Tuesdays from Oct. 1 through Nov. 19 between 3 and 6 p.m. at Room LA-6, Oxnard College, 4000 S. Rose Ave., Oxnard. Enrollment is limited to 150 participants. The deadline to register is Sept. 27. A waiting list will be created for the next program in April. For an application, write to AARP-WFIP, P.O. Box 3544, Ventura 93006, or call (805) 986-5833.

* FYI

The following free pamphlets are available to those who write to AARP Fulfillment, 601 E St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20049. Specify the order number:

* “On Being Alone: A Guide for Widowed Persons,” (D150).

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* “Tomorrow’s Choices: Preparing Now for Future Legal, Financial, and Health Care Decisions,” (D13479).

* “Insurance Checklist,” (D1032). “Divorce After 50: Challenges and Choices,” (D12909).

* “The Time to Fix the Roof is When the Sun is Shining"--list of AARP publications about long-range financial planning, (D13073).

* “Money Matters: How to Talk to and Select Lawyers, Financial Planners, Tax Preparers and Real Estate Brokers,” (D12380).

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