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Financial Life Skills for Teen Parents

Catholic Charities teaching life skillsThe Issue: How to get single teen parents to better understand money messages and financial wants and needs in an engaging atmosphere.
Who: Rebecca Phipps, LPC, professional counselor and coordinator of the Between Us program at Catholic Charities Oregon. It operates under the national Healthy Marriage Initiative.
What: Phipps teaches life skills and financial literacy mainly to single teen mothers as well as some single teen fathers. She also teaches engaged and married couples and parents of teens in addition to some private counseling. Phipps teaches at public high schools, maternity homes and early college high schools. The teen program focuses on:

  • Maturity Issues, What I Value
  • Infatuation and Attraction
  • Communication Between You and Me
  • What’s Love?
  • Peer Pressure: More Subtle than You Think
  • Safe Relationships/Cycle of Abuse
  • Basic Banking


  • Phipps uses Money Habitudes cards with teens, adults and young mothers when she covers communication, messaging, values and money.
  • She starts by introducing students to general messages they get from the media – largely by showing magazine advertisements – and discussing what they mean and how we internalize them.
  • After this introductory exercise, she next has each participant sort his or her own deck of Money Habitudes cards. After having everyone go through the money personality self-analysis step, she includes some group discussion about the results.
  • She devotes about 20 minutes of the life skills class to doing the financial card sorting activity. Classes are 1-2 hours, depending on the venue.
  • Phipps uses her own handout for the exercise. It asks participants how many cards they identified with in each Money Habitudes category and asks additional questions such as, “What Money Habitudes types show up when you’re feeling anxiety?”
  • This leads to a discussion about what money messages we received growing up and what money messages we will give our children – consciously or unconsciously. “It’s really good because it gets them to ask, ‘What am I actually teaching my child? What are my Money Habitudes and what are the messages I’m sending to my child about handling money? And what do I need to look at for myself?'” says Phipps.
  • Later in the class, she uses large sheets of paper to gather ideas from the group on wants-versus-needs and myths and facts about credit. “Wants and needs is really huge for a new parent. And the class really makes them think about it, and they start to share about it,” says Phipps.
  • With longer classes, the section on values and money messages transitions to budgeting. Phipps uses a special budget worksheet geared for teen mothers. For example, it includes income categories for TANF, SNAP food stamps, etc. The budget also highlights expenses that teens may not be aware of because they have not yet lived on their own. These may include costs like doing laundry.
  • To continue the money values discussion, Phipps also uses an activity she calls Vbay, a values auction. Students get to bid on items like higher education while sacrificing other items like manicures with limited dollars.


  • To get teens and adults involved and interested in the class. “Me, personally, I like activities so I always introduce them into whatever I’m doing. I’ve seen it done and because they engage people, they remember,” says Phipps.
  • As a way to make the discussion about financial wants and needs more personally relevant. “What happens is that they may already know they’re Spontaneous and they start thinking, ‘I need to make changes! I can’t just get a manicure!’ But if you only have a hundred dollars, you see how you need to buy diapers and something else, you can’t buy everything you want. In that session, they realize that life’s different now,” says Phipps.
  • Unlike other financial education exercises, Money Habitudes is nonjudgmental. “I like the classification of the Money Habitudes cards. I think it helps people see the positives and the challenges, to think, ‘I’m not bad and I’m not good; I just have to think about it.’ It gets them involved because they’re looking at themselves as they’re doing the cards; they’re  doing some good self-examination. It’s like a mirror that shows someone what they’re like and they say, “I am really like that. Yeah, I am,'” says Phipps.