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Integrating the Emotional and Behavioral Aspects of Personal Finance into Financial Education

The Issue: How to effectively train financial educators and coaches about the behavioral and emotional side of personal finance so they better understand the concepts and themselves and are thus better able to help their clients and students.

Maryland CASH integrates emotional and behavioral aspects of personal finance in financial educationWho: Robin McKinney, MSW, is the director and co-founder of the Maryland CASH Campaign. A veteran of the asset-building field, McKinney was previously the program assistant for Family Economic Success at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. She was also the assistant director at the East Harbor Community Development Corporation’s MoneyWise Café, providing tax preparation, financial coaching, education, and access to affordable financial services. She served on the Steering Committee for the National Community Tax Coalition (NCTC) and the boards of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, Civil Justice Network, and the Rural Maryland Foundation.

What: The Maryland CASH (Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope) Campaign is a statewide network of organizations that promote financial stability for working families. The organization coordinates financial education practitioners while focusing on three main initiatives: capacity building and training, financial education, and research and advocacy. The organization uses Money Habitudes as a standard training component for its financial educators and coaches, as well as in financial education training it does for other organizations.

  • McKinney builds Money Habitudes into all of her organization’s practitioner training. Facilitators must grasp both the numerical and budgeting aspects as well as the behavioral nuances of spending and saving in financial education and coaching.
  • As a part of Maryland CASH’s standard financial education training, McKinney focuses on the emotional and behavioral sides of money; each trainee discovers his or her own Money Habitudes money personality.
  • Following the Money Habitudes financial self-assessment, she has practitioners do a version of the budgeting bean game, a tool that helps participants understand how personality and money values affect actual financial decision-making. “Throughout the day of training for facilitators, at some point, 99 percent of people in the audience have a realization that their own money habits, attitudes, and values have been getting in the way of what they’re trying to do with their clients,” says McKinney.
  • Practitioners (social workers, financial educators, etc.) not only learn how to work with the cards to better understand how they relate to money but also so they can do the activity with end-user clients. This may be as a class activity or in one-on-one coaching. The cards are included as a tool for Maryland CASH partners and their staff.
  • The cards are also used as a mid-conversation energizer in financial coaching and counseling. “If you’re stuck or someone is just shutting down, pick out a card and use it as a discussion point that’s outside the current situation,” says McKinney.
  • In addition to training financial educators and coaches, Maryland CASH conducts standalone workshops on topics such as savings and spending plans. In these financial workshops, the organization uses the cards in a classroom setting with end users.


Making it easy to talk about money

  • The playing cards and format are non-threatening. “What’s nice about having people answer those statements is you’re asking them their opinion on something separate from themselves. You’re getting a lot of information about how they think and feel about things without asking them personal financial questions. Avoid direct questions like ‘How much credit card debt do you have?’ or ‘Why did you accumulate so much credit card debt?’ Instead, Money Habitudes statements lead to similar insights without making people feel interrogated.

Broadly applicable and easy to use

  • “It’s a tool that works equally well with practitioners and clients and I like to train practitioners with tools that they can turn around and use with their clients.”
  • They’re flexible and can be used effectively in almost any situation. “I can pick up that deck of cards and get into a good money conversation with anyone,” says McKinney. “I carry them with me. I seriously have a deck in my purse at all times because I use them so frequently. It’s a go-to, no matter what I do.”
  • They’re easy to use. “You could pick this deck of cards up with no training, with no investment in staff time except for the deck of cards, and figure out how to do it – and do something meaningful with it. People are always looking for plug-and-play tools. And the cards are just ‘play’ – there’s nothing to ‘plug.’ It’s that fast. To have something that’s a quick pick-up tool, but is this effective is very rare. It’s a minimum investment for a maximum return.”

Integrating financial behaviors and emotions into financial education

  • “The emotional and behavioral side of money is new. And it’s the harder part and it’s connected to self-efficacy. Much of our human service workforce, lacking training in discussing finances with people, tends to perform tasks like creating a budget for clients. Talking about your underlying beliefs about money is a hard conversation,” says McKinney.
  • The exercise helps financial educators and coaches better understand themselves, better relate to their clients, and better understand the behaviors behind saving and spending habits. “I always felt a missing component of financial education was being able to discuss the emotional side of money and what’s underneath someone’s habits and behaviors. And this is where I begin. I believe everyone needs to establish a foundation in this to comprehend how to approach working with people on their money.
  • “Basic financial management is about math. It’s about the black-and-white numbers of what’s coming in and what’s going out. But when it comes to financial decision-making, setting goals, and being able to achieve your goals and do what you want to do, that’s where emotion comes in. And as we all know, emotions have a huge role to play in financial decision-making. There are lots of tools and calculators and spreadsheets to help us manage the black and white, math part of finances. But we don’t have a way to even start the conversation about how to deal with the emotional side and the Money Habitudes activity is one way to start that conversation,” says McKinney.
  • “I don’t think people are intentionally not including this behavioral component; I just think people don’t understand until they see it how vital it is to what they’re doing. Instead, people are teaching stock, off-the-shelf financial education and then wondering why they’re not getting the outcomes they want to see.”

Making financial conversations more meaningful

  • “I use the Money Habitudes cards in all of our practitioner trainings which are about preparing the human workforce to deliver financial stability services. It’s part of our standard training. For us, it’s a basic tenet that anyone that is doing this work and working with us should know and understand and be articulate about.”
  • “The cards get you that Aha! moment. You see the wheels turning and people thinking, ‘Oh, I hadn’t thought about that!’ It’s something new. You can teach things like credit scores and it’ll be new information and people will say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know they collect that,’ but it’s different with the cards where someone says, ‘I didn’t realize that about myself!'”