Teaching personal finance in relationship skills classes

The Issue: How to include personal finances in a relationship skills curriculum that stresses fun, interactive activities that lead to people really understanding and changing their behaviors.

Who: Kara Shade is the Director of Adult Programs at Anthem Strong Families in Dallas, Texas.

What: Anthem Strong Families provides relationship education and life skills in the Dallas area. The organization focuses on vulnerable and at-risk populations including teens, single parents and low-income groups. Anthem Strong Families is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

Anthem Strong Families relationship skills classesHow:

  • Anthem Strong Families serves couples, individuals and teens. It works with engaged and married couples and also does workforce development.
  • It offers three levels of classes for individual adults (this may include singles, parents, etc. who are not attending in a “couples” context).
  • The Level I class is a six-hour block that covers basic relationship skills. This includes some financial management and financial goal-setting. The cornerstone of this introductory level is Kelly Simpson’s Active Relationships Program.
  • After completing Level I, participants can enroll in Level II classes. These include:
    1. “Strength Training” What makes you a good parent; learning how to build on those strengths.
    2. “Anger Management” – Constructive ways to express anger.
    3. “Parenting Piece by Piece” – Understanding and managing parental stress.
    4. Money Habitudes” – Money habits and attitudes.
  • These Level II relationship skills classes are usually offered in pairs, typically for six hours on a Saturday. The series of relationship skills classes is offered monthly.
  • Most attendees sign up for the relationship skills classes after being referred by partner groups. The partners may be other social service and non-profit organizations, Child Protective Services, etc. Many couples come to Anthem Strong Families through the Twogether in Texas program, the state’s healthy marriage initiative.
  • In describing the finance class, Anthem Strong Families uses this language: “Nobody enjoys starting the money conversation. Come learn what your money personality is and how to discuss money with someone who has a different personality!”
  • Money Habitudes classes usually have 10-20 participants.
  • Anthem Strong Families takes a behavioral approach to relationship education and life skills. Participants look at their formative environment, attitudes and emotions as a component of making real behavior change. The classes are all interrelated; for example, the topic of “emotional triggers” will be discussed in the anger management class, the parenting class and the finance class. “There is so much overlap between the classes, it’s constantly reinforcing the basic principles all day long so people leave and feel a lot more confident that they understand their situation and have new tools to decide what they can do differently,” says Shade.
  • The Money Habitudes activity occupies the majority of the 3-hour Level II finance class.
  • The class begins with quick ice breakers and discussion about the money messages people receive. One quick ice breaker is to share “What would you say to money and what would money say to you, if it could talk?”
  • After the facilitator asks the class some quick money personality questions and introduces the idea of different money personalities, each participant gets a deck of Money Habitudes cards and does the basic sorting activity. Students then get to see and interpret their own money personality.
  • This then leads to group discussion about how people see and use money. Group discussion and sharing life experiences play a large role in all of Anthem Strong Families’ classes. The curriculum stresses activity and engagement over lectures.
  • The goal of the Level II finance class is that students will have a sense of self-awareness about their finances and the financial habits and attitudes that underlie their financial behaviors. After that class, some students ask for and receive referrals to other resources and agencies that may be able to help them with specific financial issues.
  • The Level III COATS Program is available to those who have completed Level I and II classes and meet additional pre-screening criteria. This program is geared toward workforce development and overcoming barriers to employment, including: criminal records, homelessness, addiction or substance abuse, etc. Anthem Strong Families’ Level III Program also offers TYRO Champion Training and Job Ethics Training, best practice programs from The Ridge Project. The Level III program provides ongoing case management to participants, as well as referrals and access to additional resources.
  • Data from the last six months of finance classes shows:
    1. 77% of attendees felt “more confident” in making “decisions about family finances” after taking the class.
    2. 63% of attendees said they became more aware that their “spending habits affect their children.”

Why:

  • “If something is an ingrained part of your personality, we want people to have a real understanding about it. You don’t just wake up and that’s the way you are; we’re looking at how people develop over time and how they form their beliefs and behaviors,” says Shade.
  • Shade added, “We could write you a prescription and we can tell you ‘do this, do this and do this’ but unless you understand why you need to do it, and why it’s valuable to you, and what the benefits are of doing it another way, we find that people will probably just go back to the easy, default pattern they’ve established. We want to help people expand their thinking so they’re not stuck in the same old mentality.”
  • “People come away from the finance class with a better understanding of themselves: of their money personality, of their spending habits, what their financial habits are, why they are the way they are with money and whether that will help them reach their goals,” Shade explained.
  • “Everything we do is geared toward activities and group discussion; it’s not just someone standing in front of a room lecturing to you for six or eight hours. We try really hard to make sure that everything we do is interactive and hands-on. And we want it to be fun too. We know participants are giving up their time to be there and we want it to be an enjoyable experience. For us, Money Habitudes has been a really fun way to drive the points home and people get excited about it. People really get into it and it infuses energy and enthusiasm into the rest of the class. On the feedback forms for the finance classes, what we always get back is, ‘Loved the cards,’ ‘The cards were my favorite part,'” Shade noted.
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