How It Started
People unexpectedly began sharing their stories and secrets about money with Syble Solomon during coaching sessions and workshops on life transitions. They ranged from wealthy executives to single parents living on a shoestring. Many were very financially savvy and were saving and investing for the future, including some people living on minimal incomes. Unfortunately, more often seemingly rational, intelligent men and women would confide their irrational behavior related to money. Even though they knew better, they would continue to make poor money choices or never followed through when they had a plan.
Why would people do this? And why would they suffer shame or guilt, get angry with themselves or accumulate unmanageable debt when they knew they had other options and could have made better choices? Intrigued, Syble decided to research the financial, psychological and behavioral economics literature to see if there were answers. In fact, the relatively new science of behavioral economics studies the patterns of thinking and decision making as it relates to irrational financial behavior. In their book, Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them, Dr. Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University and Gary Belsky state, “…in the main, we are blissfully ignorant of the causes of most of our monetary missteps and clueless as to how we might correct them.”
Examples of recurring themes related to problematic money behavior that surfaced in workshops and were repeated in the literature are:
- Having little or no communication about how money decisions are made.
- Keeping debt, gifts, spending, earnings and investments a secret from a spouse.
- Knowing there is a need to save and invest for the future but not doing it.
- Ignoring their financial reality to live a more expensive lifestyle.
- Living frugally but going into debt for a wedding.
- Giving generously with no thought about the personal consequences.
- Having no interest in managing their money and being totally clueless about their finances.
- Making risky investments or totally avoiding all financial risk.
Taking the Challenge
Given the above, Syble became determined to find a way to help people break the taboo of not talking about money and to get them thinking openly and honestly about their relationship with money. Based on her background in education, she knew her solution needed to be interactive, quick and fun. It also had to be non-threatening, non-judgmental and, of course, effective.
After extensive research, Money Habitudes cards were developed as a familiar game-like activity associated with a positive social experience: playing cards. The categories, statements and interpretations were based on the most common themes found in financial, psychological and behavioral economics research as well as popular publications. After being tested on multiple diverse focus groups, the revised cards were reviewed by professionals around the country including consumer educators, financial planners, accountants, psychologists, counselors, personal and professional coaches, military personnel, career counselors, human resource professionals and leaders of financial associations and community programs. They were introduced in 2003.
In response to many requests, Money Habitudes for Teens was developed and is now available with an expanded curriculum written in partnership with the Dibble Institute. In addition, a young adult version, Money Habitudes II, was added as well as guides and a training DVD.
Since becoming available in 2003, Money Habitudes cards have been used successfully with individuals, couples and groups with varied audiences in different settings throughout the US. Initially the cards were used by financial planners with their clients and financial educators addressing financial literacy, credit counseling and bankruptcy recovery. They were quickly adopted for use in pre-marital classes and couples’ programs (marriage enrichment, mentoring and divorce). They have since been embraced by community and faith-based classes on communication, money management, immigrant support, asset building and life transitions. In addition, mental health professionals use the cards in private counseling and group settings for career counseling, couples counseling and personal development.
Thanks to a partnership in Singapore, there is an English Asian edition of the cards and they have been translated into Mandarin. The adult cards are also being used by individuals and programs in forty counties. The adult cards are available in Spanish and have been translated into German. The Center for Creative Leadership includes the cards in the Leading Beyond Boundaries Youth Leadership Toolkit which is used in innovative programs with youth in India, South America and twelve African countries, as well as in the US.
Money Habitudes has been recognized in a number of ways over the years. These awards include: