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The Greatest Thrift: Saving for January 

Class teaches students how to curb holiday spending.

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The small classroom at the back of the Virginia Cooperative Extension offices in Chesterfield County seats about 20, but last week it was a cheerful five who showed up for Linda Jackson Cole's financial management class. Today's seasonal topic: how to curb Christmas spending.

“We're going to be prepared for January, right?” Cole quizzes her students. “We're not going to be saying, ‘Wow, I overspent.'”

Cole is a petite, smiling, bespectacled woman who wears a trim Afro — a firm and frugal look. Her cheerfulness is infectious and throughout her presentation Dec. 10 she sprinkles steely words of encouragement to her students, who are retired, disabled or unemployed.

The students respond to Cole's advice on saving as if they're being called to witness in a church service. There are frequent nods of recognition, affirming exclamations of “right” and “that's true” and personal histories shared.

The discussion turns to gifts for grandchildren and other family members. How can they show they care when they're living on less?

“Wish them a happy holiday,” says James A. Walker, 68, who sits beside his wife, Deloris Walker, 60.

Linda Bass, 62, says she plans to buy “a few things” for Christmas, but she's worried that she's letting her six grandchildren (and one great-grandchild) down. “They'll say ‘It's OK, granny, it's OK,” she says. “But it's not OK.”

Bass is thinking about giving away some of her own possessions — a collection of decorative plates, books, an unused tea set — to her granddaughters. She wants to go to the annual holiday light show at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, but she can't afford that this year. “I just want to be able to go once,” she says.

When the class ends, Cole hands out graduation certificates. There are hugs, congratulations, Merry Christmases. James Walker pecks Cole on the cheek.
Cole tells the students to keep her updated on their progress and says goodbye. But the students linger. Linda Bailey, 52, asks if she can eat her lunch in the classroom, located just off Ironbridge Road in the government complex.

As for Bass, she hopes she can save enough for a trip to Lewis Ginter next year. Does she plan to take her grandkids? That'd be nice, she says, but “at the time, when I was thinking about going, I was thinking for me.”

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