Financial Education to Make the Military “Mission Ready”

Contact: Madeleine Greene, Personal Financial Counselor, Contractor for the Department of Defense. Greene worked as a financial counselor and educator for Cooperative Extension Service through the University of Maryland for more than 15 years.

Situation: Financial education workshops on military bases in the greater Washington, DC area and at military installations across the country. The goal of the financial management workshops is to create a corps of financially stable service members.

Who: Service members and spouses between the ages of 19 and 30 years old in the military’s different branches: Army Community service, Fleet and Family Support, and Airman and Family Readiness. Typically they either are required to attend by a commanding officer due to financial difficulties or they are motivated to be better educated about money and are being proactive.

Why:

  • To engage her audience and create an open, trusting atmosphere. Greene wants people in her classes to feel that they can share their experiences without embarrassment or shame and ask questions freely.

How:

  • This comprehensive class usually has two dozen students and covers why it is important to focus on and understand money, basic budgeting, military benefits, savings and the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), credit use and evaluation, getting out of debt, major purchases, insurance, record-keeping and retirement.
  • The Money Habitude cards are usually the first exercise and each person does the Money Habitudes Solitaire game. It serves as an introduction to what will follow and captures the audience-even those who are not there of their own choosing-by getting them involved and interested in the subject.
  • I like to say to them, ‘OK, you’re here. They [the military] have said, ‘Use these eight hours to talk about money.’ I don’t know you. You don’t know me, but I want you to know that I’m here to be of service to you and I think these cards will help you understand and process a lot of the information that I have to share with you today. How you’re going to listen, how you’re going to hear, how you’re going to process is subliminally influenced by what has happened to you.
  • After the class sorts their Money Habitudes cards, she takes a tally where people share their different dominant Habitudes. This low-risk exercise to share something personal and financial underscores that people are different and that they come from different places when it comes to money.

Outcomes:

  • The cards get their attention and are a fabulous way to have individuals work it out for themselves. They figure out the real reason they are using money the way they do.
  • People learn best when they are involved in their learning. Through the cards they are involved, they reflect and are more likely to apply what they’ve learned.
  • The cards help them to understand and process a lot of the information that is shared within the context of this class.

Observations and Comments:

Too often I think that people jump right in with the body of material they want to present, but [first] you need some method to get people to be with you because then they’re going to hear you better and they’re going to engage with the material.

Part of the reason that the cards work is because participants find value in the insights they provide—and that they accurately capture people’s strengths and challenges around dealing with money.

The thing that I love about using the cards is a comment I have heard over and over and over again: ‘Oh, did they get me right!’ or ‘I can’t believe how accurate this is!’

Money Habitudes cards are a versatile tool. I always take them with me because, invariably, I can make them work in the situation I find myself in.

Beyond the hands-on engagement the cards offer they help people put the other topics in context. Understanding one’s Habitudes then frames other aspects of financial well-being regarding spending or saving smarter, investing, going into debt, giving to charity and the like. This is especially important with an audience that often lacks financial life experience and good financial role models.

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