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An Improved Series of Financial Classes for TANF

The Issue: How to make TANF financial classes more approachable and effective.
TANF financial classesWho: Sonya McDaniel, CFLE, is an extension educator who focuses on family and consumer science in Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma.
What: McDaniel runs a series of financial classes for the county’s TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program. A federal program through the Department of Health and Human Services, TANF provides local assistance and work opportunities to needy families.

  • McDaniel teaches financial classes for three different TANF groups in her county: a low-literacy group, a group completing GED requirements, and a group getting vocational skills training.
  • Students get other life skills and career training through the TANF program; McDaniel does an in-service on financial skills.
  • Typically, the financial classes have 10-12 people. Everyone works with his or her deck of Money Habitudes cards.
  • McDaniel teaches a standard series of three financial classes for these TANF groups. Each of the financial classes is an hour and the series takes three weeks.
  • Before switching to Money Habitudes, the series of financial classes began with a first class that focused almost exclusively on needs and wants. However, it was not as dynamic, engaging or fun as McDaniel wanted. She always believed in starting with a less threatening class before covering financial skills in later classes.
  • After an introduction to the series and a brief overview of how habits and attitudes about money are formed, the entirety of the hour-long class is devoted to doing Money Habitudes. Participants sort their cards and then go through an interpretation step, looking at their money personality profile.
  • This first class still maintains some of the big ideas from the original needs and wants class. McDaniel says the class on habits and attitudes, featuring Money Habitudes, does the following:
    • Energizes people and gets them excited while also putting them at ease because the activity is fun, hands-on, and feels like a game.
    • Establishes a nonjudgmental environment.
    • Starts people talking and sharing in positive ways about their financial experiences.
    • Helps participants acknowledge that they have money and make spending decisions. Without the Money Habitudes activity, McDaniel says participants tend to dismiss financial education as pointless (and they therefore don’t participate) because they say they have so little money that the class isn’t relevant to them.
  • “Most of the time, the assessment that comes from doing the cards is dead on. Very rarely will I have someone who says it isn’t right,” says McDaniel about the money personality profile results they get by doing the Money Habitudes activity.
  • Participants in the financial classes generally know each other because they spend so much time together in the TANF program. McDaniel says students often interact when sorting the cards and looking at their money personality results. While these discussions are often full of laughter and smiles, sometimes students offer serious insight and advice to each other.
  • After doing the money personality interpretation step, there is some group discussion about the results.
  • At the end of the first class, McDaniel asks the students to keep a spending journal to go over the next week in class. The worksheet she uses comes from Idaho Extension’s Dollar Decisions financial curriculum. She says that students can also make their tracking sheet by simply folding a piece of paper a few times and using the boxes for different days or categories (e.g., gas, food, etc.).
  • After a first class that students enjoy, McDaniel says she gets a warm reception when returning for the next financial classes.
  • The second and third financial classes are drawn from the Dollar Decisions financial curriculum, which is written to “teach low- and moderate-income adults successful ways to track expenses and make ends meet.” The curriculum (which is available in English and Spanish) can be adapted for one 30-minute class, one 1-hour class, or two 1-hour classes. “Dollar Decisions is really great for this audience and adding Money Habitudes at the beginning sets the right tone,” says McDaniel.
  • The second class starts with setting a financial goal. McDaniel says the goals are more relevant and specific (versus just “I want to say more”) after students have done the first Money Habitudes class. This class then covers making a spending plan. McDaniel says that the students’ budgets end up being more realistic after the first class. For example, students may still build in the cost of cigarettes or going to a casino (often omitted when people feel judged by a teacher or counselor), but set realistic goals for such expenses. This class also covers tracking expenses and how to stay within a budget. The curriculum includes videos which are included in the class.
  • The third financial class covers how to manage money. This may be using a ledger, a calendar, or an envelope system.


  • “Students are a lot more receptive the next time I walk through the door when I’ve done Money Habitudes first. They’re like, ‘Oh, we’re going to talk about money and it’s not going to be bad!’ I do Money Habitudes at the beginning because it makes people more receptive. And it sets the tone that we’re not going to be judgmental; that we’re not going to come in and say, ‘You’re a horrible money manager!’ The cards set the tone that it’s all about understanding yourself.”
  • “Money Habitudes helps me get to know the students better so I can tailor thoughts or examples to them, or when helping them follow through in writing a budget.  I was very bored with teaching money management and it gave me something more entertaining and interactive to teach,” says McDaniel.
  • “I usually do Money Habitudes in the very first workshop. It’s a way I can get students talking about money and talking about their spending and loosen them up a bit to even be receptive. If I go in and I immediately start talking about needs and wants and budgets, they’ll just tell me they don’t have any money. If I do Money Habitudes with them, they’ve already admitted that they have money and they spend it.”
  • “With Money Habitudes, students are learning something and they’re thinking about stuff, but it doesn’t feel like schoolwork.”
  • “Money Habitudes helps me get students’ buy-in so they’re even receptive to making a budget or evaluating their spending.”
  • “After we do Money Habitudes and people see their spending habits, then we do a spending plan or budget. At that point, I knew if I had a Planner or a Giver in the group; I knew what their personalities were. We talk about how a budget only matters if you’re going to do it; it needs to work for you. So for people with a lot of Planning cards, I make them budget ‘free’ money. Or if I know they’re giving their kids everything they want, I’m going to focus on gifts being ok in a budget, but knowing the number you can afford.”