Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino employees practice financial wellness
By Christia Gibbons
Jana and Doug LeGrande couldn’t afford to retire.
Money matters were putting a strain on Joseph Caruso and his wife Shannon’s new marriage.
Jeff Miller was uncomfortable with his credit-card debt.
All employees of Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino Resort, they were used to the various wellness programs available to workers, but in the last year a different kind of program was offered — one on financial fitness.
“We know folks are struggling with finances — the weight of those impacts coming to work with that burden,” said Beth Amoroso, Harrah’s Ak-Chin human resources director. She saw employees borrowing from 401K plans and needing loans.
Amoroso heard financial guru Dave Ramsey on KTAR radio and got to wondering about addressing “the total wellbeing of our employees.”
Since taking the online course, which is supplemented by weekly on-site meetings, the LeGrandes are going on a 25th-anniversary cruise, the Carusos are happily organizing their two incomes and Miller has paid off a car.
The course is free to employees, with a returnable $50 commitment to attend half the meetings. Ninety of the casino’s 700 employees have gone through the course with another 20 enrolled in the current session.
The first group of 40 saved $59,400 and paid off $48,007 in debt during the 13-week course.
“We’re going to take our first cruise; we got our first passports,” Jana LeGrande said of the seven-day Mexican Riviera trip planned in December. “Dave Ramsey basically gave us our vacation.”
LeGrande is a part-time seamstress at Harrah’s and her husband is a full-time bellman. They moved to Maricopa three years ago from Nebraska where she sold real estate and he was a farmer.
When it came time to retire, “We had lost a lot of money like everyone else did,” Jana LeGrande said. “Foolish us, we thought we could live on Social Security. It pays the bills, but we couldn’t save, couldn’t eat.”
LeGrande said the course — called Financial Peace University — “gave me peace of mind.”
Ramsey tenets include: pay cash; never buy a new car; start an emergency fund at $1,000; pay off debt starting with the smallest balance; tuck away three to six months’ worth of expenses; invest in Roth IRAs; and pay off a home early.
Caruso said finances were tricky because, as a poker room supervisor, he earned a salary and wife Shannon, a black-jack dearler, earned the bulk of her money from tips. They both took the course.
“We learned budgeting wasn’t all about how much money we made, but also about where we spent those hard earned dollars,” he said. The couple expects to be debt free, or close to it, by the end of next year.
Caruso said he wasn’t sure he wanted someone telling him how to spend his own money, but figured he’d take the course because his company was paying for it.
“The best thing, Shannon and I feel great,” Caruso said. “We don’t have any tension or uncertainty about money. We’re happy; we’re proud.”
Jeff Miller said he’s become so committed to FPU, he’s becoming one of the on-site facilitators. He is an analyst at Harrah’s dealing with projections and budgets.“I’d heard Dave Ramsey on his show on a local radio station several times, (people) exclaiming how they’re ‘debt free!’ When I heard our property was offering Dave Ramsey’s FPU, I knew if I, too, wanted to scream ‘We’re debt free.’ I had to jump on board and learn the tools to help me get there.”
He said he and wife Christina, who is a kindergarten teacher at Santa Rosa Elementary School, took the course.
“Now we monitor our finances and spending regularly, readdressing our budget weekly, as some of our expenses fluctuate month to month,” he said.
Amoroso, the human resources director, said: “Honestly, this has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my career — the possible impact on people’s lives forever.”