Using Money Habitudes in Bankruptcy Classes

Contact: Beverly Mercer, court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, Waco, Texas

Situation: The State of Texas mandates that any Texan who files for bankruptcy must attend a bankruptcy class which teaches them how to avoid bankruptcy in the future.  Mercer teaches 3-5 classes per month, each with 15-30 people who have filed for bankruptcy. Mercer also has the goal of making her students financially successful in the future.

Who: The classes where attendance is mandatory include a diverse audience:  young and old; singles and couples; people with kids and those without; varying education and experience managing their finances.  Some ended up in bankruptcy due to job loss, family crises or medical emergencies; other from simple overspending.

Why:

  • To engage people.  They are already stressed and expect to be judged and blamed so going right into budgeting is not a good way to start the class.
  • To help people declaring bankruptcy better understand what has gotten them into financial trouble and motivate them to take steps toward responsible money management.
  • While the Money Habitudes Cards are very specific in their statements, those statements are broad enough so as to be applicable to the diverse student population.
  • The Money Habitudes Cards make talking about money not just personal and relevant, but also, as a result, entertaining and effective.
  • The Money Habitudes Cards have the ability to uncover and unlock people’s money challenges-as well as other, interrelated issues.

How:

  • The 2 ½ hour class starts with a 20-minute video about the bankruptcy process.
  • Mercer then uses the next hour to help her students come to understand their philosophy, habits and attitudes related to money. Each attendee uses an adult deck of Money Habitudes and it is the only tool she uses.  Then she talks about how these personality traits and behaviors have shaped their lives and finances.  Along with this understanding is a discussion of setting and achieving financial goals. Each student is given a handout to take home of the table included in the Money Habitudes Professional Guide.
  • The last hour focuses on the practicalities of managing money and budgeting. She developed most of her curriculum in collaboration with a other bankruptcy instructors. Some of the handouts and slides are from the National Association of Bankruptcy Trustees (NABT).

Outcomes:

  • It makes the class enjoyable, personal and relevant which engages the students.  They typically come in less than enthused to be there because they were compelled by law to attend these classes, but the cards make it entertaining and effective.
  • The cards help people understand the big financial patterns in their lives by starting with small, nonjudgmental, easy-to-comprehend statements and moving to where they have had problems and how to work on them.
  • Using the cards people can suddenly realize, “This is why I’m in financial trouble all the time.” says Mercer. “It’s more personal when they read the different cards and they’re deciding, ‘that’s me, and that’s me! Or ‘No, that’s not me.”  It’s more meaningful for them than for someone to stand in front of them and try to talk about money.”

Unexpected Outcomes

  • A couple came afterwards and told me they were thinking of divorcing, but now they were going to rethink it.
  • I’ve had people leave notes for me saying how discouraged they were and now they had hope.
  • More applications:  Mercer found them so helpful she has also used them when teaching budgeting and financial stewardship classes at her church and when doing individual bankruptcy counseling and financial education.

Observations and Comments:

 

On evaluations, students typically report that sorting the Money Habitudes cards was one of the best, most helpful parts of the class.  Part of that response is due to the cards’ ability to uncover and unlock people’s money challenges—as well as other, interrelated issues.

 

The cards replaced a worksheet where students would answer a generic money-philosophy questions such as “I am a risk-taker.”  These bland statements didn’t engage students and lacked the specificity to help them see how their every day habits and attitudes were symptomatic of their larger money issues.

You’ve got to have a reason that you need to budget.  A lot of people really do not think it’s necessary so you have to work through these other things in order for them to see how it impacts their whole life.  And the Money Habitudes cards are a great way to help bring in a lot of these things and bring up a lot of the issues that people deal with and help them see it in themselves and what the impact is.

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