One of the great friction points in marriages is money. Although people do not want to talk about it, they do want to be able to deal with it effectively. To help people introduce the difficult topic, talk about it and better understand one another in a marriage, Erica Brown used Money Habitudes as a light but insightful conversation-starting activity with a monthly meeting of military spouses. The Airman and Family Readiness Center at Shaw Air Force Base runs monthly meetings for active duty, retired and reservist spouses. Referred to as Spouses´ Cafés, the relaxed two-hour gatherings are like a support group. They foster friendships and help attendees navigate military life through a series of informative seminars. Knowing how important money is within marriages, community readiness technician Erica Brown introduced her spouses group to the topic of finances by walking them through Money Habitudes™.
Fun, Casual Conversations
The cards were a good fit for the support group event for two reasons says Brown. First, they are a fun activity which aligns well with the informal nature of the gathering; when friends meet for coffee and camaraderie, they don’t expect to be staring at a PowerPoint presentation. The cards are also hands-on and everyone can participate together. Doing an activity that people are excited about is important to attract and keep spouses in the support group.
“The reaction was very good. One of them was saying, ‘I need to take these home so my husband can do them!’ I think they were really excited,” says Brown.
Second, the cards offer a non-threatening way to get people to talk about and think about a topic that is often not discussed in marriages. “I knew I had to have the cards because I knew I could do so much with them,” says Brown who appreciates that the cards work not just for money and finance classes but also for marriage, relationship and communication sessions as well. And, because of the stress that deployment puts on managing joint finances, dealing with money can be an especially difficult topic for military couples. Many couples don’t talk about money because they fear it will lead to arguments. A 2009 study by PayPal/Ipsos found that money is the top cause of arguments among American couples, followed by household chores, in-laws and sex.
Using Money Habitudes
Brown gave decks of cards to each attendee while they were waiting for food to be served, briefly explaining the instructions and methodology behind the game-like activity. Each person sorted the cards using the typical solitaire activity and then Brown let the discussion flow from the activity to get the spouses to share their results and learn from each other. Because money is so difficult to talk about, it helps to hear that others around you are having the same issues and concerns that you are. This is a key component to a support group. Brown is just careful not to overdo it too soon.
“In order to keep people coming, you don’t want to overwhelm them,” she cautions.
By looking at the sorting results and gauging the conversation, Brown uses topics as they come up as a natural opportunity to explain some of the sticking points or challenges that couples may face related to money. And the message is not just “save at all costs,” but rather that balance is good.
“You can’t have all Security cards because that means that you’re not going to have any fun,” she’ll explain to the group, which may cause some light bulbs to go off in people’s heads when they think about their own money management at home.
Starting a Good Conversation at Home
And while the conversation begins at the café table, it will then continue once each spouse gets home. To make sure it does, Brown gives attendees their own decks of cards to keep so they can do the activity with their spouse.
Brown believes that if she did the activity with the spouses but then sent them home without the cards, the attendees would want to talk about the results and start a conversation about their finances. However, the absent spouse might still be skeptical and want to avoid the subject. “But if you come home and say, ´Honey, I got these cards from the Spouses´ Café today and you wouldn’t believe what they say! Well, I’m going to let you do them and then we can talk about them afterwards,'” it’s a non-threatening way to approach that subject,” says Brown who sees the cards acting as a conversation starter and an ice breaker between the couple.
“You had that A-ha moment. Now take it home and do it with your spouse and see if you can have that A-ha moment together,” she says. “We’re trying to get them talking.”