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6 tips for Financial New Year’s Resolutions

Financial New Year's resolutionsOne of the top New Year’s resolutions is always improving one’s finances. Of course, we do a lot of thinking about how people relate to money so we wanted to share a few thoughts …

  1. Be specific with your financial New Year’s resolutions. Instead of, “I want to pay off my debt this year,” restate it to something like, “This year I’ll use $20 from each paycheck to pay off $1000 on my credit card bills.”
  2. Have a good, non-threatening conversation about money. Research shows that it’s the #1 issue causing stress in relationships. First, pick a time when you’re relaxed (maybe a nice dinner). Don’t talk about money if you are HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. If the time is good, instead of talking numbers, try a conversation starter like, “What was the first big thing you bought with your own money?”
  3. Spend money on making memories, not just buying more stuff.  Happiness research has shown that spending money on experiences reduces stress and increases happiness more than purchasing things. So take a vacation, visit people you enjoy, take a painting class and be happy! Your kids and your parents will also likely cherish time spent having fun together more than another gift or gift card.
  4. Do something each day. You don’t need to make huge changes overnight with financial New Year’s resolutions. In fact, we often sabotage ourselves by making unrealistically big commitments to change. Focus on small changes you can make that will add up over the coming year. A good resource for ideas and motivation is the daily messages from Inspired Savings.
  5. Know where you are now. You’ll feel much more in control if you take an hour or two to know what you have and what you owe. Review your credit cards, bank accounts, investments, mortgage, 401k, insurance, etc. You may be surprised that you’re in better financial shape than you realized. You may also discover some easy ways you could cut back on spending that wasn’t obvious to you before.
  6. Check your credit report. It’s free, won’t hurt your credit score and might save you a lot of money! The official site for your free reports is: annualcreditreport.com. Look for any mistakes. Having inaccurate information on your credit report could lower your score and cost you a lot of money in higher interest rates if you apply for a loan, credit or insurance.

financial capability grant: housing, emergency assistance & workforce development

This financial capability grant announcement is applicable to many Money Habitudes users who are doing work in asset building.
CFED financial capability grantCFED, in partnership with Bank of America Charitable Foundation, is soliciting applications from organizations interested in joining an eighteen-month Intensive Learning Cluster to integrate financial capability into social service programs in the following sectors:

  • housing
  • workforce development
  • emergency assistance (critical needs)

This financial capability grant is limited to organizations that provide services within one of the targeted markets. Organizations who are selected to participate will receive an $8,000 stipend. The Learning Cluster will run from November 25, 2013 through May 31, 2015.
Applications are due Thursday, October 21, 2013.

Teaching financial management to young kids

Our Money Habitudes materials help people teach financial management to adults and teens. Because the hands-on activity is used like money management games, we’re often asked if there is a version for young kids.
The Money Habitudes for Teens version is designed for high school students, typically ages 15-18. Using the cards requires that one is making financial decisions and that’s not always true with populations younger than high school. Although we’ve heard stories of people successfully using the cards with junior high students and very young kids — as young as eight and nine years old — we don’t recommend the materials for these younger age groups. And at this point, we don’t have plans to develop a version of the teaching tool for very young kids. Still, many of the the individual statement cards can be used as conversation starters across most ages.
captain cash financial education for young kidsSo while we do not have a version to help teach financial management to elementary school and junior high kids, we’re certainly interested in programs that do reach this audience. After all, Money Habitudes is unique in helping teens and adults understand their habits, attitudes, values and behaviors when it comes to money — and a big part of what influences our financial habits and attitudes is what happens in childhood.
There are obviously more financial education curricula for teens and adults, but there are some that are used with much younger kids. One of those is Captain Cash from Purdue Extension. It’s recommended for third and fourth grade. It’s described as “an interactive educational program designed to teach basic financial management skills to your students.” It covers the following:

  • Money behaviors observed and learned in childhood impact adult behaviors.
  • Money management messages that children process in the home, the community, on television, and via other media shape their values, attitudes and future money habits.
  • Individuals and families are not able to respond to economic disruptions because they have not learned critical money management concepts and skills.

Finance in the Classroom

Money Habitudes is now recommended as a resource in Finance in the Classroom. Finance in the Classroom is a service of the Utah State Office of Education and the Utah Education Network.
finance in the classroomFinance in the Classroom supports Utah’s initiative to include a financial literacy course as a high school graduation requirement. The state is also pushing to further empower youth in making financial decisions. A number of other states have undertaken similar initiatives with many including financial literacy as a graduation requirement.
Money Habitudes is used in both adult and teen financial education classes. The Money Habitudes teen financial education curriculum won an Excellence in Financial Literacy Education Award.
Money Habitudes is often used as an fun, hands-on ice breaker or introductory activity that helps people talk about money, understand their money personality and their spending habits.
States like Utah often have their own state financial education requirements. We maintain a list of how Money Habitudes fits within a variety of national financial education standards including Jump$tart, FINRA and the National Financial Educators Council’s Financial Literacy Standards.

Communication skills in relationships

We talk a lot about the right way to talk about money. After all, money is one of the hardest topics for people to talk about. But, what happens when you don’t have a good interaction around money? There are bound to be upsets in any relationship. (That’s true for other flashpoints in addition to money.)
So sometimes it’s good to review the larger topic of communication skills in relationships, thanks to our friend Dr. Susan Heitler, a Denver clinical psychologist and marriage counselor. Although she also tackles the central issue of money in relationships, she’s put together a great toolkit of articles on communication skills:

As with Money Habitudes, there’s a focus here on understanding your own habits and attitudes – and those of your partner; self-assessment is a big part of why our money personality methodology works. There are practical tips to have good, healthy conversations. There’s also a focus on being proactive and not reactive – including learning communication skills and employing them early in a relationship. Also, there’s a sense of fun and lightness that’s especially evident in Heitler’s free online PowerOfTwoMarriage relationship quiz. It’s fast and easy – just like Money Habitudes!
Also, online relationship tests are top of mind for us as we’re working on that transition for Money Habitudes …

Bonus financial conversation starters for individuals, couples & counselors

Usually when people use Money Habitudes as financial conversation starters, they stick to the usual money personality instructions. In the typical solitaire sort, people get to see their money personality for how they are today. But, of course, our financial habits and attitudes change over time.
Here are a few bonus financial conversation starters you can do with Money Habitudes money management games. Bear in mind though that you’ll almost always want to do the basic exercise first. This provides a valuable financial self-assessment and allows you to benchmark your financial behaviors as you are today. Then you can move on to these bonus financial conversation starters when the situation is right and if you have time.
These largely help people see how our financial attitudes and spending habits and behaviors evolve and change. Like the slow rise of sea level, it can be hard for people to see how much they’ve changed over the years because it’s often a gradual process.
The financial conversation starters below can be used by couples on their own – or by professionals like therapists and marriage counselors. (Therapists and counselors may also be interested in the Bringing Money Into the Conversation guide, which includes tons of other activities and resources beyond the Money Habitudes financial conversation starters.
Of course, always bear in mind the usual suggestions to have a good conversation about money, which we’ve posted before.

Financial conversation starters for Money Habitudes

  • before and after financial conversation startersBefore and after getting married. It’s not uncommon for couples to change after being around someone else for a long time. It may be that being with someone else moderates your behavior – or reinforces it.
  • Before and after another major life event: divorce, having children, going away to school, retirement, etc. Did this major event change you at all? Was it a dramatic shift? Did it make you hesitant to spend money – or did you start spending more freely? Were you more likely to sacrifice for others? Do you think the change is permanent or is it a phase?
  • You, today and 10 or 20 years ago. The goal with these financial conversation starters is to look at how you’ve changed. And, in that context, what’s changed around you? Were you living with your parents before and now live independently? Did you have kids living with you but now they’re grown and living on their own? Was the economy different Did you have different goals for yourself? What have you gained from these years of experience?
  • How would you answer the cards differently if you lost your job? (Or, what if you went back to work?) Employment can have a big effect on our financial habits, attitudes and behaviors. Many people are spurred to think about their finances and talk about money only after this big change. But it’s helpful to be able to think about the situation in advance, when you’re not feeling like you’re in the midst of a crisis.
  • How would your mother sort the cards; how would your father sort the cards? A very common a-ha! moment for people is seeing how they are like or unlike their parents (or other formative adults in their lives). Because our own household was our own “normal” environment, it can be hard to take an outside look in on that time. If you’re always spending money on other people, it may be that this was a strong tendency for your mother that you’ve just made a habit of because it was normal. That could very well be spending too freely, never spending anything, hoarding, spending to impress others, planning every expenditure in an exacting manner, etc.
  • Sort your cards for yourself and then sort the cards as if you were your spouse or partner; do it for each other. These financial conversation starters reveal differences between how you see yourself and how your partner sees you. It helps identify gaps and misconceptions you might have about each other. One of the keys here is to refer back to the “how others see you” section on the yellow interpretation cards. If you see yourself as very frugal, but your partner sees you as overly cheap, a good conversation about how you both see money may big dividends. However, some of these differences may call for some professional coaching or counseling.
  • How would you like to be with money in 5 years? How is that different from the money personality profile you got of yourself when you do the cards for how you are today? What would you need to do differently to become that future version of yourself? Do you want to become more balance? Do you want to increase a certain dimension within your money personality? Do you want to decrease a certain part of how you see and use money today? This returns to the topic of financial goal setting. For that, try using the SMART method to set good financial goals.
  • How would you your sibling(s) sort the cards? Just as with doing the cards from your parents’ perspective, doing them from a sibling’s perspective can also be helpful. Why do you and your sibling(s) get along – or not – when it comes to money? What do you admire about your brother or sister? What do you think they admire about you? How was your childhood similar to theirs? Was your family always wealthy or always poor – or were there times when your family’s fortunes changed dramatically?

Teaching personal finance to foster care youth

The new “Protecting the Credit of Youth in Foster Care” guide recommends using Money Habitudes.  The foster care report was prepared for the Annie E. Casey Foundation by Jennifer Miller and Rebecca Robuck of Childfocus.
foster care youth credit guideA good resource for those working with youth in foster care, the report lays out why credit is such a big issue for this population:

Every year, more than 26,000 young  people age out of foster care, many with  no permanent home and no parent to  help them navigate the road to adulthood … Stolen  identities and bad credit pose yet another  obstacle on the road to independence. For youth who have faced years of instability  and uncertainty, bad credit stands in the  way of some basic life activities, such as  renting an apartment, buying a car, getting  a job, having a bank account or securing  student loans.

The Protecting the Credit of Youth in Foster Care guide adopts the youth empowerment approach with three primary goals:

  1. Educating young people about what credit is and how it can impact their futures.
  2. Clearing credit reports to help youth  on the road to financial health.
  3. Equipping youth to maintain good  credit in the future

Helping youth in foster care understand their own credit history and issues

Within the first section, “Understand Your Own Credit History And Issues,” Money Habitudes is recommended as a tool to understand one’s own financial experiences.:

Reflect on your experience with credit and identity theft. Consider your own approach to credit and financial issues. How knowledgeable are you about money and credit? Have you ever had your identity stolen, and if so, how was it resolved? Your attitude and behaviors toward credit and identity theft impact how you work with young people. Regardless of your experience, it’s important to approach young people’s financial education and empowerment in an unbiased way.

Money Habitudes is a resource on attitudes and values about money that also has tools for teens and young adults.

Money Habitudes in financial education programs for youth in foster care

The Money Habitudes activity is often used with young people in high school classes. It’s also used in community classes and counseling – including within the foster care system. Money Habitudes works well as a money management activity for both adults and youth because it looks and feels like a game. It makes it fun and easy for people to talk about money and understand their spending habits. It shows people their money personality and helps people see and understand what has shaped and influenced their financial habits and actions. It can be used as an ice breaker activity or as a stand-alone class. It is often used as a lead-in module for a series of financial education classes.
It is used as:

  1. money conversation starter
  2. financial ice breaker
  3. money personality quiz

Two versions of our money management games are typically used with youth in foster care: Money Habitudes for Teens or Money Habitudes II for Young Adults (18-25). In addition, our award-winning high school finance curriculum for teens is used in foster care programs. It includes both financial skills and relationship skills. Read a case study about foster care financial education using Money Habitudes …

themes in marriage and finances statistics

We track and list marriage and finances statistics because they tell part of the story behind why people use Money Habitudes. After all, what marriage and finances statistics show is that money plays a big role in whether marriages are healthy or not.

General themes in marriage and finances statistics

statisticsOne of the themes that one sees when looking at marriage and finances statistics is that money is a big source of disagreements for couples. That couples fight over money (or because of money) is perhaps self-evident. However, it’s interesting to see how consistently money ranks as the top cause of couples’ arguments. It beats out chores and in-laws, among other sources of couples’ fights.

Marriage and finances statistics: being able to talk about money

Another theme that ones sees when looking at marriage and finances statistics is that couples don’t talk about money. The stats show that this is true when couples are dating and when they are married. Looking at the marriage and money stats, one sees that couples often don’t talk about money unless they have to talk about money. This is true with day-to-day expenditures, spending for special occasions (like buying gifts for the holidays, going on vacation, etc.) and just general budgeting and financial planning.

Underlying messages in marriage and finances statistics

Of course, while it’s hard to talk about money and money is often the reason why couples fight, the reality is that there’s usually another reason that couples fight. Money is a proxy for many other issues in relationships. That might be trust, respect, freedom, generosity, self-worth, love, security, independence, etc.
money argumentTo illustrate some of the marriage and finances statistics, here ere are a few examples of “money issues:”

  • One spouse discovers the other has a secret account or a secret stash of cash. Here, the person hiding the money may be satisfying a need for security – to feel like there’s money in an emergency, if someone loses a job, etc. – but the spouse assumes there’s a great deal of mistrust. This supposed financial infidelity can then become a big source of conflict.
  • One spouse stays home and takes care of the kids. The other spouse works full-time. To the working spouse, who also manages the household’s financial accounts, it makes sense to ration out money to the other person according to a well conceived budget. However, this can feel like being on an allowance and losing one’s freedom. Here, money is the issue but the argument that may be simmering is about respect and independence.

Money Habitude’s role in marriage and finances

A big part of helping couples talk about money in a healthy way is to help them understand themselves and each other when it comes to money. There are certainly times when professional marriage counseling makes sense here, but there are other times when smaller steps may do the trick. Money Habitudes helps couples talk about money and understand each other in a few different ways.

  • It is a self-assessment to help people understand their money personality: their unique saving and spending habits, the context in which they were raised with money (e.g., family of origin, culture, etc.), financial goals, etc. It is not uncommon for someone to do the quick Money Habitudes activity and have a real breakthrough in understanding: “Oh, I never realized that was why I’m always spending that way!” As with many personality tests (e.g. Myers-Briggs, etc.), there is great power in objectively understanding one’s self, how one got to be a certain way and how others see you and your actions.
  • It provides a common money language that is easy to understand and non-threatening. Instead of a wife calling her husband “cheap,” for example, she may come to see that not spending money may be one’s need for Security coming through. Taking out negative, charged language can go a long way in ameliorating fights about money.
  • It’s a fun hands-on activity that provides a framework to discuss money. It is easier to say, “Let’s do this specific activity,” than it is to say, “Let’s just sit down and talk about our finances.” People often laugh and smile when they read through the questions – a rarity when it comes to talking about money.
  • Money Habitudes doesn’t involve numbers or math; that can come later. Working with numbers and filling in a budget worksheet are important, but math can make people nervous and feel judged. Instead, the financial ice breaker helps people see money in the context of their lives: do you go shopping when you’re stressed, do you often pick up the check for other people when you go out, etc.?
  • In doing the money personality activity, it affords people a way to tell stories and explain their spending habits in a proactive way that makes sense to them. The person with a secret account may reveal that as part of a discussion about growing up with very little money – which leads to a better discussion than when a spouse discovers the secret account without any context. That then leads to a money confrontation rather than a real money conversation.

How to discuss money in a good way

It’s important to know how to discuss money. This is true if you are discussing money with a friend, sibling, parent, partner or spouse. It’s also important for professionals like financial planners, financial educators and therapists to be able to discuss money with clients and patients.

How NOT to discuss money

First of all, people often pick the wrong time and place to discuss money. The the money discussion doesn’t go well. That only reinforces the idea that it’s hard and not productive to discuss money. Here are some tips so you can avoid discussing money at the wrong time. Think about the acronym, HALT. Don’t discuss money if you are:

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

In the same vein, it’s not a good idea to talk about money when you spring it on someone. Instead of trying to discuss money with your spouse when you are upset about a charge on your joint credit card, put the issue aside for a bit until you are calm enough to talk about it.
comfy chairs help you discuss moneyAnd research has shown that your environment can have a big effect. In an experiment conducted by Sonya L. Britt and John E. Grable, professors at Kansas State, it was found that just installing comfy chairs or a sofa in a financial planner’s office improved the interaction by reducing financial planning clients’ stress levels. What’s the takeaway from this professional setting for those at home? Be comfortable. Think of the dynamics of sitting across from each other at a table, interrogation style, versus sitting next to each other on the couch.
Also, think about discussing money as walking up a set of stairs:
At the top of the stairs are money discussions that are big and serious and have the biggest chance of causing discord. This might be bringing up a prenuptial agreement. It might be getting your credit reports and going over them before getting married or buying a house.
At the bottom of the metaphorical staircase are money discussions that are much less charged and easier to have. Discussing money here might look like talking about the first purchase you remember making on your own. Was it a doll, a bike, a basketball, a car, etc.?

The first time you discuss money

Many people don’t discuss money until they have to discuss money. Think about the couple where one person manages all the finances and everything is going swimmingly … until someone loses his or her job. Then they have to discuss money and it’s a really stressful situation.
If you don’t talk about money unless there’s a problem, it’s easy to connect “talk about money” and “problems.” (That’s true too for a therapist, financial educator or financial planer who only talk about money when they need to “fix” something.)
Therefore, plan to progress through various levels of difficult money discussions over time. Start with the easiest conversations. And have those conversations at good, healthy, convenient times. Think about the different conversations that come out of setting up the conversation in these two ways:

  • “Let’s plan to share some of our early money memories over a nice dinner next week.”
  • “We need to talk about our finances tonight!”

Although Money Habitudes was specially designed to get people to discuss money in a good way, here are a few low-risk money conversation starters that you can also use:

  • Remember the first time you bought something with your own money? What did you buy? How did you get the money?
  • What was your first job and what did you do with your money?
  • What did you learn from your religion about money?
  • Growing up, how was money talked about in your home? Who paid the bills? How were big financial decisions made?
  • How would you know when your parents disagreed about money?

Even with low-risk money conversation starters and a good environment, it’s still good to start a money discussion by acknowledging to your partner that talking about money can feel awkward, but it builds trust and lays a stronger foundation for your relationship.
Finally, it’s good to get into a practice where you discuss money on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be weekly. Think about having a check-in every quarter or every six months.

How understanding your money personality helps you discuss money

It can be hard for someone to discuss money because you bring your own biases, values and attitudes to the discussion. For example:

  • buying habits - money discussionIf you grew up in a family that was very generous, you may have a strong belief that one should use money to help others. If you are discussing money with someone who doesn’t feel the same way, it can cause problems. You may think that your friend, partner, spouse, etc. is cheap or uncaring about others. That person may think you are irresponsible and unrealistic when it comes to providing for yourself and your family. Those feelings can easily boil over into offensive and hurtful words that make it hard to have a productive conversation about money. Imagine how hard it is to recover from a money conversation that starts with, “You’re so irresponsible! All you ever do with your money is give it to your brother who never seems to be bale to hold a job! And you’re always pending our money on gifts for other people and then we have to do without!”
  • If you are very good at not spending money it can be hard to discuss money with someone who finds it easy – too easy, you might think – to part with money. It’s easy for people to label money behaviors different than their own as being “cheap” or a “spendthrift” and having a money discussion devolve into a money fight.

How Money Habitudes helps you discuss money

Money Habitudes was designed to help people discuss money. It looks and feels like a money game but offers serious results. It is one part money conversation starter and one part money personality test.

  • First, as an activity, it gives people an excuse and a framework to talk about money. It is easier to say, “let’s do this conversation starter game” versus a more open-ended, “let’s sit down and just discuss money.”
  • Second, it helps start conversations around money. Each of the 54 statement sorting cards acts as its own non-threatening ice breaker statement.
  • Third, it helps people understand their own money personality – and that of the person with whom you want to discuss money. If you know where you’re coming from, it makes it easier to listen, be less judgmental and understand your own tendencies, attitudes, and financial biases.
  • Fourth, it gives people non-threatening, non-judgmental language to use when they discuss money. It’s easier to talk in terms of, “Oh, I see how us spending that money would affect your need for security,” versus, “Why are you always so cheap whenever we need to spend any money?”

Resources for professionals to discuss money better

Even professionals who discuss money all the time can still have trouble with the conversation. For example, it’s not uncommon for a financial planner or financial educator to jump right to discussing dollars as soon as someone steps into their office or classroom. No doubt you’ll have to talk about money and you’ll even probably do a budget. But left-brained, “numbers people” can forget the basic step of getting to know a client or student and get to know him or her. It’s harder to get to know people in a group or class, but it’s still an important step to let people work up to the numbers part.
bringing money into the conversationThink about how socially off-putting it would be if you met someone at a party and the first thing you asked was “How much money do you make and what are your expenses?” Just because you’re in a financial office or classroom only soften that blow a little. And handing someone a budget worksheet when he or she walks in is basically asking that same question in a different form. Ease into the money discussion.
Also, we recommend three resources to help people discuss money:

  • The Guide for Couples offers some more guidance and structure for couples doing the Money Habitudes activity on their own.
  • The Guide for Professionals is a companion to using the Money Habitudes cards in professional settings.
  • Bringing Money Into the Conversation is a guide about how to talk about money that only briefly mentions Money Habitudes. It is an aggregation of tips, conversation starters, activities and methodologies for professionals to have good money discussions. It’s geared for therapists and counselors.