How one woman used the power of community to rise out of debt.

*Featured image photo by Tobias Dziuba

The power of social media can motivate people to exercise or stick to a certain diet, spread the word about a new product or service faster than any other type of advertising, and foster relationships between people who might never meet in real life. And as one single mom proved, it can even help people get out of debt.

We’re not talking about the next get-rich-quick scheme or multi-level marketing gimmick here. This is just moms helping moms (and dads!) to get back up on their feet and steer clear of debt. This is the power of community.

The Ingenious Idea One Struggling Single Mom Came Up With

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It all started when Lise Leblanc bought a new couch on a buy-now-pay-later promotion. As she stared at her new purchase, she began to have buyer’s remorse. “I was like, ‘What am I doing?’” Leblanc remembered, “I was like, ‘This is so stupid.’”

That’s because Leblanc was already in debt: almost $53,000 to be exact. The single mother of two, struggling to make ends meet, couldn’t believe that she had just dug herself further into the hole. She worked as an administrative assistant, but the cost of living was outpacing her salary. After paying the mortgage, utilities, food, and daycare, there was very little wiggle room.

But instead of getting bogged down in stress or being overwhelmed by it all, Leblanc looked at the problem head on and went straight to the source: controlling spending to begin with.

“When I decided I needed to make a change,” she said, “I was all in.”

And she decided to make it into a game of sorts. Since Leblanc knew she wasn’t the only mom in her community struggling with debt and rising inflation — and since challenges are more fun when you take them on together — Leblanc started a Facebook group and invited a few people to join. She called her group Mom Jeans.

“It kind of started as just this debt challenge,” Leblanc explained, “‘Let’s motivate each other to get rid of debt,’ and it really has morphed into this whole community group.”

The group launches regular “No Spend Challenges” where group members are challenged to spend the bare minimum for a given amount of time. The Saskatoon-based group also participates in bimonthly clothing swaps and group grocery drives. They use their Facebook page to freecycle items. 

But Leblanc’s group has become more than that. “People really quickly realized that it was a safe space to talk about their problems and ask questions that they may not feel comfortable asking their family or asking publicly,” she said. For this reason, although the group is accepting new members, it remains private.

A single mother of two, Leblanc originally had other single mothers, recently separated from their partners, on her radar. One of those single mothers is Caleigh Farkas.

Farkas found Mom Jeans at a time when she needed community the most. She had just lost her mom and was in the middle of a separation from her partner. She found herself single parenting a two-year-old and a six-month-old. When her car broke down and needed $1,000 in repairs, rather than charge it to a high-interest credit card, Farkas got a loan from Mom Jeans.

“It really helped,” said Farkas, who was a student at the time and had student loans. “The support was obviously needed.”

How One Single Mom Harnessed the Power of Community

Now that Mom Jeans is a registered nonprofit organization, it can grant micro-loans to its members. “We look at their income, we give them an amount that we think is reasonable for them to pay back and give them quite a generous payback period and it is all based on trust,” LeBlanc said. A testament to the power of women helping women, the group boasts a 100% repayment rate.

As the group has grown, so has its demographic, and families of all kinds are welcome. Recent inflation is a major topic of conversation these days. Group members swap tips on how to cope with it. “As far as inflation, groceries seem to be the biggest thing coming up,” said LeBlanc. “In our house, we just really stick to the basics: rice, beans, produce that’s on sale and frozen produce. We don’t buy meat or dairy; it is really expensive.”

Samantha Schneider, a member of Mom Jeans, said of the group, “There is a lot of waste reduction in a lot of ways. Every bit goes a long way for a lot of these people and a lot of these women.” Schneider has become more and more involved with the group. These days, she’s heading up fundraising for the nonprofit organization.

Lise Leblanc took a look at her situation and realized that she wasn’t the only one. The power of community is in its exchange of knowledge, emotional support and access to resources that no individual member of the community can muster on their own. Leblanc used it, not only to solve her own problems, but to motivate and empower women and families to take back control of their financial situation. She created community.