Lauren Walker, 29, is a single mother living with her four-year-old son Riley in a rented townhome in a small town in eastern Mississippi. Lauren works full time as an administrative assistant for a local construction and engineering firm, and she covers her frugal needs with her annual income. But the annual perspective hides months lived very close to the financial edge. She carefully manages her spending, all the more necessary because a prior bankruptcy limits her credit access and she does not receive child support from her ex-boyfriend, who is Riley’s father. Perhaps Lauren’s greatest asset is a reliable and steady income. Even so, Lauren needs to borrow from her mother to pay for childcare so that she can work full-time. The combination of careful management, a steady income, help from family, the Earned Income Tax Credit—which she relies on to pay off her debt to her mother—and the prospect of near-term job advancement yields a hopeful financial picture.

Read about Lauren Walker in the full case study.