Tackling Financial Literacy for Teens, Homebuyers and Seniors

Instead of sleep-inducing PowerPoint slides and a lecture, Belinda Pfeiffer, a family and consumer sciences educator, uses Money Habitudes for Teens to connect with teenagers in schools and youth groups. When using Money Habitudes with homebuyer/homeowner classes and with senior citizens, the cards help put people at ease, get them to open up, participate and make classes more enjoyable. Working with high school students, low-income senior citizens and homeowners on the verge of foreclosure, Belinda Pfeiffer sees how dire the need is for financial education. Although she addresses different issues for groups with different needs, she has developed a general class template that is effective with a variety of audiences. Usually working with only an hour, Pfeiffer, a family and consumer sciences educator with Oklahoma State University’s Extension Service, divides her class into two equal parts. The first is an introductory section using Money Habitudes to engage students and help them better understand themselves. The second builds on the habits-and-attitudes piece and includes practical financial skills.

Financial Education for Teens
Although learning something about personal finances is better than nothing, Pfeiffer says that what most kids get in high school is too little, too late.

“A lot of times, they don’t get financial ed until they’re seniors. But, by that time, they’re graduating. They should have known this stuff before they were seniors so they could start saving a little bit and thinking about college, but they don’t get it until it’s too late,” she says.

This deficiency is hard to ignore as the symptoms trickle through society. However, Pfeiffer notes that there is a nationwide push to increase the amount of financial education that young people receive; she’s even started doing financial programming for 4-H’s Cloverbuds, kids ages 5-8.

“There is a big need for it because we see a lot of bankruptcy and lots of credit card problems,” she says, noting the burden falls on schools and youth groups because parents are not necessarily comfortable or capable themselves in this arena.

“They don’t have the time to sit down with their kids. And they don’t share the financial situation in their home. It’s like, ‘Let’s not talk about it.’ Parents just deal with it and don’t include the kids.”

Thus, Pfeiffer works with schools and groups like 4-H to increase financial literacy. Through Extension, she promotes curricula from NEFE (National Endowment for Financial Education) and programs like Reality Check where students manage their expenses for a simulated adult life. However, she largely builds financial literacy through her own classes in school classrooms, 4-H youth groups and at 4-H’s regional county leadership conference for students 13-18 (where she offered the event’s first financial education session; it attracted three sessions of 20 students).

Structuring an Effective Class for Teens
Knowing that she has limited time, Pfeiffer concentrates on making students aware of how personal finance affects them and she tries to instill good, life-long habits for handling money. For this standard class structure, Pfeiffer uses Money Habitudes as a 30-minute extended icebreaker.

She begins the class with a brief introduction, then asks students about spending habits and attitudes and their first money memories (which, she notes, frequently return to the Tooth Fairy). She will then have each of the 20-30 students sort his or her own deck of Money Habitudes for Teens, followed by a discussion of what the results mean and how they influence spending and saving. With this interactive introduction, she avoids being just another presenter with sleep-inducing slides.

“It’s not a PowerPoint! I think PowerPoint is wonderful, but sometimes I think it’s overused and I feel like people get more out of doing than just sitting there listening and reading or having someone read to you, which is one of my pet peeves about workshops. With the cards, they’re actually doing something so it gets them involved and then they share with each other. I just think it’s a better learning setting than to do a PowerPoint or lecture the whole time. It gets them involved and ready to listen,” she says.

Typically, students see a pattern in the Money Habitudes statement cards with which they identify. Pfeiffer could use this initial half-hour to cover another money management topic, but she says that starting with personal attitudes and behavior is like an investment so the rest of her lesson sinks in more.

“Before they can actually sit down and say, ‘I’m going to change my spending habits and I’m going to look at what I’m spending and how much money I have coming in,’ they need to know, really, what they´re doing. And people don’t think about that. But as they use the cards, they read those statements and they have to put them down and think, ´Yeah, that’s me.´ And people say, ´My gosh, that is me – I can’t believe that! I really do do that! You hear these comments the whole time they’re reading these cards! It’s an eye-opener,” she says.

With a little bit of coaching from the instructor, students connect how their Habitude type plays into why they’re making a budget, tracking their expenses or setting personal money goals. Interestingly, she sees how – at least anecdotally – students who have had real-life money management experiences by undertaking 4-H agricultural projects seem to have a better sense of financial skills and priorities versus other youth and adult groups. Following Money Habitudes, she may use tools like Iowa State University’s Allowance Game, which teaches students to prioritize spending among various categories. At the end of the class, she encourages students to share what they learned, hoping that they: recognize needs versus wants; understand what a budget is and why it’s important; and are motivated to spend and save better.

Educating Adults
When Pfeiffer had to do a last-minute presentation for foster grandparents – who earn a small stipend to work as classroom mentors and aides – she decided to try using a variant of her typical class structure (but replaced the Teen cards with the adult version). She feared that the format wouldn’t translate well for older adults and was also concerned that they wouldn’t be interested in sitting through financial classes. After all, even though foster grandparents tend to be a low-income group, they’d been paying bills for decades. They didn’t want to be lectured about managing their money.

“I did it at a meeting where all four counties [in her district] came together and I thought, ´Oh, they’re really going to hate this, but I’m going to do it anyway.´ But as a result of that, I’ve got foster grandparent organizations calling me and asking me to come and present it when they come in for their district meetings. They like it because they’re doing something,” she says.

In this case, the cards have been a foot-in-the-door and have helped Pfeiffer promote her classes by word of mouth.

“I do the whole financial part, but they want me to make sure that I do the cards while I’m there because they like those, they like what it says, they like the results,” she says.

Creating Cohesion
Regardless of the audience to which Pfeiffer is speaking, she knows it’s usually a group that is not enthusiastic about the topic. That makes for a challenging and potentially unpleasant environment in which to learn – and to teach.

“There are not many people who really want to hear about financial education,” she says.

Seeing that the Money Habitudes activity made for a better learning and teaching environment in her other classes, Pfeiffer added the cards to her homebuyers and homeowners workshops; the cards augment the curriculum outlined by the Homebuyer Educators Association. Here the cards help couples feel more comfortable with each other and better understand how they handle money. When fearing foreclosure and feeling caught in a contentious situation, such breakthroughs are a positive, hopeful step.

“I’ve used the cards [with them] and they’re always amazed to see how their spouse thinks about money. I just think they’re a good tool,” she says.

However, beyond simply getting people in her pre-foreclosure classes to feel more comfortable with their partners, the Money Habitudes cards also build broader goodwill among the entire class. They help put people on equal footing, make the material feel more approachable and foster a more upbeat, supportive and cohesive group says Pfeiffer.

“They have to come to the meeting; they’re required. And they’re resentful and embarrassed. But that’s what’s nice about using the cards: it gets them busy, it gets them involved in it and then they start sharing,” she says of the common bonds that Money Habitudes establishes, turning aloof strangers into sympathetic supporters. “They look at it and they see themselves and they hear others making the same comments. It gets them to talk.”

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