Transitioning from Financial Literacy Seminars to Financial Counseling
The Issue: How to get more people to feel comfortable attending financial literacy classes – and then to seek out financial counseling. An important component is to help people understand that improving one’s finances is often about more than just the math or doing a budget.
Who: Sally Massey Wiebe is a Financial Counsellor with Community Financial Counselling Services. CFCS is a United Way-supported non-profit based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
What: CFCS often works with vulnerable, high-risk populations. It partners with other interrelated organizations around workforce readiness, free tax preparation or gambling. It provides services for:
- financial counseling
- debt management
- gambling addiction
- employment and income assistance issues
- financial literacy (consumer education/information)
- While much of CFCS’s work is done in individual or couples counseling, the organization raises awareness for its services (credit counseling, debt management, etc.) by doing financial literacy seminars. This may be for community groups, other organizations, or the public.
- These financial literacy seminars often address behavioral economics and behavioral finance. The goal is to get people to see that values, behaviors, habits, attitudes and emotions play a significant role in financial decision-making. CFCS’s financial seminars stress that fixing one’s finances is not just about math.
- Massey Wiebe notes that addressing financial habits and attitudes as opposed to just doing a budget, is also a friendlier, more human introduction to what can be a difficult, scary topic.
- In financial seminars, Massey Wiebe talks about the Money Habitudes methodology, mentioning the different money personality types and the way these affect people’s financial decision-making process. She also tells participants about the Money Habitudes cards and offers to let people use them when they return for financial counseling. Participants discuss the basic Money Habitudes types, but do not actually use the cards in the awareness seminar. “Even without having gone through the exercise in great detail, there’s an awareness of the significant differences between the Money Habitudes types that allows people to say, ‘Oh, I can see where that might be an issue for me.’ I encourage them to explore the concepts further by coming in to meet with us and do the Money Habitudes exercise.”
- For Canada’s annual Financial Literacy Month, CFCS put on a seminar called, “Is It Just About Money?” which made people aware of the behavioral components of personal finance, rather than just focusing on tallying accounts, doing a budget or filling out a spreadsheet. “That message resonated with people. We had 30 people in our class. From the feedback we got, it certainly seemed that this approach made sense where a ‘how to do a budget’ session probably wouldn’t have gotten people to attend,” said Massey Wiebe.
- When people come in for individual or couples counseling, they are offered the opportunity to use the Money Habitudes cards. Some also specifically request the activity after hearing about the cards in the larger financial seminar.
- A first financial counseling session usually lasts one and a half hours. It not only involves assessing the client’s situation but also laying a foundation for a strong, trusting relationship. Couples may sometimes choose to do the Money Habitudes activity separately with a counselor instead of sorting their cards at the same time.
- CFCS tends to develop long-term relationships and works to address financial issues holistically, rather than just servicing debt or providing credit counseling and ignoring other issues.
- “Money Habitudes helps them put all the pieces of their financial puzzle on the table and see if they’re achieving what they want to achieve, where there are obstacles they create for themselves, and where there are solutions that can be facilitated with a new understanding and new perspective of why they do what they do with their money.”
- “There’s often a sense of ‘I’ve tried to do a budget so many times and blown it every single time, so why would I want to put myself through that again? Instead, it’s important to understand why we get ourselves into the financial predicaments we do by seeing it from a different perspective.”
- “Money Habitudes can be a way to help people discover what they do or have been doing, what are advantages of changing that, or understand how they relate to their partner in a real, hands-on way that can, in some cases, encapsulate several sessions of discussion just by looking at the result from the That’s me pile. We can dissect it further, but it really gives us a good place to start.”
- “We’re trying to get people to realize that it’s not that you’re stupid or lame or unable. It’s because there’s this information that runs behind the scenes – you’re not even thinking about what you do – so let’s go to that place and translate it to how it affects the decisions you make about your budget or your credit.”
- “It’s really crucial that it’s not just about, ‘Let’s do the math!’ It’s about, ‘Let’s understand what you have to deal with already. And Money Habitudes is an engaging, non-threatening way to help people recognize patterns and perspectives on money.”