The Issue: How to start a series of money classes with an engaging session that covers financial habits, attitudes and behaviors.
Who: Jean Dempster and Janet Smith are Asset Development Trainers at Women, Work, and Community in Maine. Both have been teaching money management classes for more than 10 years.
What: Women, Work, and Community (WWC) is the only statewide women’s economic development organization in Maine. It has 10 centers and 8 outreach sites. It operates under the University of Maine at Augusta. WWC offers classes and workshops to individuals in four areas: Career, Starting a Business, Money Management, and Leadership.
- WWC offers a series of financial education classes. My Money Works: Tools for Smart Money Choices, a 5-class financial education series, is 15 hours.
- These money classes progress as follows:
- financial habits and attitudes
- income and expenses; budgeting
- credit reports and credit scores
- protecting assets and retirement
- basics of investing
- The money classes have previously been supported by a FINRA Investor Education Foundation Financial Education in Your Community grant. Most of the financial curriculum was created in-house, but also draws on FDIC’s Money Smart financial curriculum and FINRA Investor Education Foundation materials.
- Although there is a focus on women, classes are about 20% men. Often, people sign up for the money classes as a result of some financial crisis like unemployment or divorce.
- The money classes usually have 8-12 students. Because the classes are voluntary, they must feel fun, helpful and welcoming.
- For years, WWC has started its financial education series with a class on financial habits and attitudes. “We’ve always really felt that if you don’t look at your attitudes and beliefs about money, then it’s hard to change your behavior,” says Dempster.
- “What we’ve always done that’s different is start off with a whole first session that talks about attitudes and early childhood memories about money and other things that lead to where we are today instead of just the cold, hard facts of how to do a budget. Many people are not comfortable talking about budgets and numbers so we want to build up group rapport before we tackle the numbers and skills,” says Dempster.
- The financial habits and attitudes class originally used material from the book, Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.
- WWC now uses Money Habitudes cards as the foundation of its first class, called Getting Comfortable With Money. “Several years ago one of our staff members got a set of the cards and loved them and said they’d be a good fit for our programs. So we all tried the cards and thought the same thing and decided to integrate them into our existing classes,” says Smith.
- Used like money management games, the class gets 15-20 minutes to sort their own deck of Money Habitudes cards. This is followed by interpreting their money personality. The Money Habitudes module lasts for about an hour during the 3-hour first class.
- The activity helps people talk about money. It is followed by a discussion about the money messages that people receive in life. Smith asks people, “What are some of the phrases you remember about money when you were growing up?” She also asks what financial habits and behaviors they observed.
- Later, participants set up a money journal to track spending over the next few weeks. Finally, they write out positive affirmations about money management.
- In addition, WWC offers the Money Habitudes activity as a stand-alone class. These money classes last about an hour and are offered at their own facilities and at off-site events like free tax prep workshops. “We use Money Habitudes to recruit for our longer financial education classes. Someone will come in to a one-time class on Money Habitudes then think, ‘This was really good and fun and I want to learn more about managing my money,’ so then they may sign up for our longer classes,” says Smith.
- “What makes our classes different is our focus on behavior, so the Money Habitudes cards have been a great addition for us,” says Dempster.
- “We’ve known for years that people can learn the skills, but then they need to apply them. And people don’t apply what they know, not because they don’t know about it, but because there are other things going on. We want to help people understand what else is going on,” says Smith
- “If it were just about the tools, people would all already be doing budgets! There are many budget books and budget websites. There’s more to it than that. It’s that change in attitude – that I can do this, that there are changes I can make – that is so important,” says Dempster.
- “I’d been working with a woman, one-on-one, to get her finances in order. And she’d worked really hard over several months to get her budget together. Maybe a year later, I got a call from her because she said she’d seen that we were doing the Money Habitudes class and she wanted to attend. So she came to the class and at the end said, ‘Oh, now I understand! I’ve got this budget and I was keeping track of my expenses – in fact, I’m still keeping track – but I’m not following it! I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t sticking to it!’ She had never given me that feedback over the previous year. It was just such an a-ha moment for her! She finally told me that her problem was spending online – but she’d never told me about that when we met until we did the Money Habitudes activity. After that, we could finally work on strategies for that and really help her,” says Smith.