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Financial habits, attitudes, behaviors in money classes

The Issue: How to start a series of money classes with an engaging session that covers financial habits, attitudes and behaviors.
women work and community money classesWho: 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.

Financial education classes and train-the-trainer for financial educators

The Issue: How to lay a foundation for financial skills by getting students to understand the role of habits, attitudes, emotions and behaviors in their own personal finances.
financial education classes and train-the-trainerWho: Saundra Davis is the executive director and founder of Sage Financial Solutions, an organization dedicated to helping communities develop financial education classes and programs. She is a nationally recognized expert in the financial coaching field and is a co-founder of Earned Asset Resource Network’s (EARN) work in financial coaching and planning.
What: Community financial education classes and train-the-trainer programs for financial educators.

  • For years, Davis has covered financial habits and attitudes in her classes.  “I was already doing a lot of work about emotions and behaviors and the cards just made it easier,” she says. She usually starts her financial education classes with the Money Habitudes exercise.
  • To do a complete class based on Money Habitudes and doing the card sort, interpretation, and discussion, Davis allows an hour.
  • After covering the emotions and behaviors component with Money Habitudes, Davis moves on to the “nuts and bolts” – concrete financial skill building topics. “I make sure that before they leave, they have both the ‘why they do what they do’ and then ‘how to do what they say they want to do,'” she says.
  • As a framework for using the cards in financial education classes, Davis recommends thinking through these questions:
    • What is your reason for using the cards? What impact do you want the cards to have on participants?
    • How will you use the cards: individual, small groups?
    • How will you capture the “take-away” insights from the the Money Habitudes cards?
    • What is your “call to action” after doing the activity?
  • Her classes and trainings also use her own materials, those from Ted Klontz and Swanson Group’s value cards.
  • As part of the financial habits and behaviors class, Davis may break the class into small groups and have them discuss their earliest money messages. She may also give them a circumstance like getting a $5000 tax return and ask them to talk about it.
  • Davis teaches teens and adults and works with end-user clients as well as other financial coaches and educators. The train-the-trainer classes vary little with the different audiences because Davis insists that financial educators do the same exercises they’d ask their own clients and students to do. (Among other groups, Davis is a trainer with NeighborWorks.) Rather than train financial educators on theory, she walks them through the activities, including Money Habitudes. “If anything I’m trying to take their expertise down a notch,” says Davis about the challenge of having very knowledgeable educators who may have a hard time making lessons relevant and understandable.
  • In fact, even those with a lot of financial expertise who self-identify as being “good with money” often come away with new insights. “What happens when you use the cards is that people who think they have their act together are also coming face to face with the parts of their own financial lives that they don’t like. So this gives them an opportunity to face their own financial fears,” says Davis. When she was working with a CPA, she recalls, “He said, ‘Wow, I really understand now why my wife gets really unhappy with me!’ He’s so focused on Planning and Security that he doesn’t have enough fun. And, in his mind, taking care of her is getting the money in order. In her mind, taking care of her is spending time with her. It’s really a unique opportunity for people in relationships to see where they differ around money.”
  • The cards tend to be a good assessment of how people see money. “Every once in a while I get someone who does the cards and says, ‘This doesn’t resonate with me.’ I’ve done the cards with more than 1000 people, maybe 2000 or 3000, and I’ve had maybe one person who didn’t agree with the card sort results,” she says.
  • Part of Davis’s success comes from her belief in creating a safe space to discuss the difficult topic of money. To do this, she insists that everyone in the financial education classes participate; there are no passive observers. She also shares examples from her own life. And when teaching a class with different age groups, she makes sure people have an age-appropriate version of Money Habitudes.
  • Because people get excited to start playing with the hands-on cards, Davis is careful to give very specific instructions about how to use them.
  • Davis prefers to give a new deck to all participants and to let them take the deck home. Her hope is that they will do the fun exercise with a spouse, friend or relative. “I tell them not to go and say to someone, ‘Hey, you need to do this!’ I’ll coach them about the process and give them some conversation starters for when they go home and encourage them to do it with their friends. People complain about money all the time, so why not start having productive conversations about money?”
  • Once the class has moved on to other topics, Davis refers back to the financial habits and attitudes that students discovered in the Money Habitudes module.


  • “People know that what they’re doing isn’t working. They just don’t know what else to do. People know they need to include habits, behaviors and emotions, but they don’t know how,” says Davis.
  • “Everything comes back to the budget. It doesn’t matter where you start, you’ll still cover that. You will absolutely do a budget when you’re helping people – I just don’t lead with it. When I say, ‘Let’s do a budget,” who on earth is excited by that? The Money Habitudes cards give me an introduction into a financial conversation that’s non-threatening and even kind of fun – there’s always laughter – it’s just really valuable.”
  • “Once people use the Money Habitudes cards, they get it. But, I do think it’s hard for people to get it before they use it. It’s like coaching. Talking about coaching is not the same as actually getting coached by a great coach.”

Money Mentors Learn About Financial Behaviors to Relate Better To Clients

United Way - money mentorsThe Issue: How to train money mentors to understand how they see money – and how their clients may see money differently. Improve financial coaching.
Who: Joanie Davis, Community Initiatives Director at United Way of Henry County and Martinsville.
What: The United Way of Henry County and Martinsville is part of the HOPE (Helping Others Progress Economically) Coalition. The asset building coalition includes financial institutions, government agencies, and civic and nonprofit organizations working to improve the economic self-sufficiency of low-income and low-wealth families and individuals. Rather than just financial assistance, participants take charge of their money and their lives through free personal financial management classes and financial coaching. Volunteers serve as money management mentors. The United Way also trains VITA volunteers to provide free tax preparation for low-income individuals and families to claim benefits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

  • The United Way’s money mentors work one-on-one with people seeking financial assistance.
  • Many of those who volunteer to be a financial coach come from related professions. This includes social workers, financial planners, etc. Many of the money mentors are able to use their financial coaching training in their regular jobs.
  • Money mentors attend a train-the-trainer style class once a week for 6 weeks. Each financial coaching class is 2 hours.
  • The financial coaching class mirrors the IDA (Individual Development Accounts) curriculum that the United Way offers. This includes modules on:
    • income versus expenses
    • banking basics
    • living on your own (for young adults)
    • managing income and expense over the long-term, with goal setting
    • debt reduction
    • investing  and your financial future
    • getting a loan
    • credit reports and scores
    • understanding yourself and your relationship with money (including Money Habitudes and True Colors)
  • Each money coach is also trained to use Money Habitudes. It is used as a money personality assessment and a money conversation starter. Money mentors receive a guide and decks of cards to use with clients.
  • As a learning tool, doing the Money Habitudes activity helps a money coach understand his or her own money personality. As the money mentors better understand how they see money themselves, it helps them work better with clients by:
    • Being less judgmental.
    • Being more sympathetic and understanding.
    • Tailoring advice so it is best suited to someone with a different view of money.
  • A money coach can also choose to use Money Habitudes as an ice breaker or assessment tool when working with clients.
  • The financial coaching program helps transition some of the United Way’s clients from free tax preparation services to more holistic and individualized financial help. Beyond tax prep and the money coach program, the United Way offers:


  • “It’s been a good fit for us. It seems like people are more receptive to our other financial education materials after we do Money Habitudes. It’s been very positive for us.”
  • “I saw the cards at a conference and it clicked with me. I thought, ‘We can talk about the relationship with money and assess their personality – their habits, attitudes and behaviors about money – and that’s how we can get them to change.’ At first, I was thinking we’d just focus on numbers like their income and expenses. I thought there had to be something else. And Money Habitudes was that tool.”
  • “It’s a good ice breaker activity that can get people thinking about money and open up their minds, to say, ‘Ok, maybe I do need to do a budget. Maybe I am spending too spontaneously.’ For me, it was a real eye-opener.”

Credit Union Training on Financial Behaviors, Emotions and Attitudes

HOPE Coalition - credit union trainingThe Issue: How to train financial services professionals to easily understand the emotional and behavioral side of finance to better relate to financial clients.
Who: Joanie Davis, Community Initiatives Director at United Way of Henry County and Martinsville.
What: The United Way of Henry County and Martinsville is part of the HOPE (Helping Others Progress Economically) Coalition. The asset building coalition includes financial institutions, government agencies, and civic and nonprofit organizations working to improve the economic self-sufficiency of low-income and low-wealth families and individuals. The United Way used Money Habitudes to do professional development workshops for its credit union partner. The United Way trained the credit union’s employees to better understand how habits, attitudes, values and emotions play into financial decision-making – and how to better relate to and serve clients.

  • The United Way facilitated “lunch and learn” workshops for the credit union’s employees at all of its branches. The credit union training was mandatory for employees.
  • Hour-long classes were based on doing and discussing the Money Habitudes activity to determine each employee’s own money personality type.
  • The credit union wanted to provide training that was new and out of the box. Most credit union training revolves around understanding technical concepts and numbers. However, this session was about understanding people. Being able to introduce emotions, behaviors, attitudes and money personality was new.
  • The goal of the workshops was to get the credit union employees to better understand how they see and relate to money in order to understand and relate better to the credit union’s customers. Ultimately, the workshops were designed to help the credit union employees improve member relationships.
  • “Financial professionals can dismiss clients because they’re different from you and you don’t understand them. Beyond just doing the cards and saying, ‘These are my Habitudes and you’re different from me,’ it’s a step further. It’s asking, ‘How does this affect my job? How do people respond to me? Do they think I’m judgmental? Is that why they don’t want to do business with me?'” says Davis.
  • Discussion raised questions such as: If you are a teller and have a dominant Planning Habitude and you’re dealing with a customer with a dominant Spontaneous Habitude, do you feel defensive? Does it lead to talking differently or interacting differently? How would you recommend financial products or services that would be a fit for that customer? “Learning about yourself as a financial professional and how you see money, you can get rid of the disconnect with the person you’re working with and open up the lines of communication and become more effective,” says Davis.
  • Davis made a chart of all the credit union employees’ dominant Habitudes. As so many of the employees had similar money personalities, it opened up discussions about how employees often saw and reacted to money one way while their customers would make financial decisions differently.
  • Feedback from the training was very good said Davis. A comment typical of the realizations people gained: “I realize now why I feel defensive when people come in with their iPhone and their brand new shoes and they’ve overdrawn their bank account three times at Burger King for $1.50. And I realize I need to check myself and be more understanding.”


  • “We’re trying to get everyone speaking the same language in our community with financial capability. Money Habitudes is one of many we use, but it’s the one that’s more emotional and touchy-feely – but without being too fluffy and forming a circle or doing a group hug or singing Kumbaya,” says Davis.

Budgeting and Personal Finance Classes in Relationship Education

The Issue: How to deliver effective budgeting and personal finance classes within healthy relationship education.
Who: Deborah Gunn is the program manager for First Things First’s federally funded Healthy Marriage Demonstration Grant. First Things First is an award-winning not-for-profit dedicated to strengthening families in Hamilton County, Tennessee through relationship education, collaboration and mobilization.
First Things First relationship educationWhat: Through its HHS-ACF grant, First Things First collaborates with community organizations and businesses to implement workshops that encourage and support healthy relationships. These relationship classes are for married couples, teens, non-married expectant parents, engaged couples, and singles, as well as married couples in distress.

  • First Things First offers a variety of marriage and relationship education programs. Classes are different lengths for different audiences. When including a module on budgeting or personal finance, they use Money Habitudes cards.
  • The Money Habitudes activity generally lasts an hour. Participants understand their own money personality an learn to talk about money.
  • In “Passionately Married,” an 8-hour course for married couples, there are four modules of two hours. Money Habitudes is used during the two-hour section on personal finance and financial literacy. Couples also do a joint budget.
  • Money Habitudes is used in the following relationship education classes:
    • Preparing for Marriage
    • Sex, Lies and Relationship Drama
    • Secrets to Lasting
    • How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk/Jerkette
  • Classes and teaching methodologies are drawn from a number of relationship curricula, including the Dibble Institute’s Connections: Dating and Emotions, PREP, Couple Communication, and Family Wellness. First Things First customizes much of its relationship education content from these programs. Money Habitudes is added to these marriage and relationship programs as a relationship-and-finances module.


  • “When I went through evaluations from our independent evaluator and looked at the progress of learning in the area of budgeting and finances, the teen classes were always about double the knowledge level of the adults. So I wondered what the difference was – and the difference was that the teens were using the Money Habitudes cards! From that, I made the decision that Money Habitudes would become the standard budgeting and finance piece we’d use in every class,” says Gunn. (The Ochs Research Center surveyed 3,000 high school student participants over a six-month time period. The teen program combined Money Habitudes and Dibble’s Connections. The study found that 89.6% of participants gained budgeting and financing skills and 95.0% said they gained communications skills.)
  • First Things First’s educators are not “financial gurus” says Gunn, and need a way to introduce finances in a fun, non-threatening way before helping couples with the actual numbers and budgeting process. “What I like about Money Habitudes is that even though we are teaching about budgeting and finances, it’s more about your attitude than just making a budget,” she says.

Youth Financial Empowerment Initiative: Financial Literacy for Parents and Kids

The Issue: How to get parents and kids to feel comfortable discussing financial topics in a long-term financial literacy program – and better relate to each other around the difficult topic of money.
 NC Collaborative - financial empowermentWho: Tarin L. Washington is Program Associate at The Collaborative, a private, nonprofit serving North Carolina. It is the lead agency for North Carolina Saves and works to implement and promote strategies to build family economic security and individual financial capability.
What: “Learn To Earn: The Youth Financial Empowerment Initiative” is an innovative financial literacy program. It brings together parents and kids to develop financial skills over the course of a school year.

  • The program includes youth, 14-18, with their parents in regular financial literacy classes. Classes meet 6-8pm in a public library. Dinner is provided during the first half-hour; this is both an incentive to attend and a way to build rapport and community within the class.
  • As opposed to beginning with a budget lesson (or a similar concrete financial skill), the program starts with two classes on financial attitudes. The Money Habitudes activity occupies most of the second class. This helps participants relax and better understand how and why they spend and save. This financial self-awareness prepares participants for later lessons.
  • Washington planned to have the parents sit together and, separately, have all the kids sit together when doing the Money Habitudes activity. However, she ended up running the activity with parents sitting next to their children. This created more discussion between parents and kids. “They were looking at each other’s cards and if someone didn’t understand, they would ask their parents. I liked that interaction. They were engaged with each other,” says Washington.
  • Parents used the Adult version of Money Habitudes cards and kids used the Teen version. They sorted their own decks at the same time and got their money personality results at the same time too.
  • Washington asked the younger participants to share some of their results and then asked the parents what they thought of their child’s money personality results. Parents then shared about their results and the teens were asked to comment. “We want this to become a normal conversation in households,” says Washington.
  • Although the next class went on to other financial skills, Washington says the cards (and the financial habits and attitudes insights from them) continue to be brought up in successive classes.
  • Other classes and topics include: budgeting, credit reports and credit scores, savings and bank accounts, identity theft, careers, car-buying and predatory lending. These lessons are drawn from a variety of financial curricula and guest speaker presentations. Participants also set financial goals throughout the program.
  • A key outcome is for the youth to open a savings account early on in the program and add to it with incentive money for attendance and homework completion. Washington says, “Research shows that youth with bank accounts in their own name are more likely to attend college. We want them to be successful in all areas of their lives and to develop early savings habits and positive money management skills and behaviors.”
  • Youth and their parents are also encouraged to become North Carolina Savers by signing up at


  • “I thought it was important to take the fear out of the whole topic. People hear ‘budgeting’ and they shut down. So instead I wanted parents and kids to start with how we’re influenced around money. I wanted them to understand how they think about money – without getting into the numbers.”
  • “There used to be a lot of class discussion around, ‘I do this because it’s what my friends do’ or ‘I want to have what my friends have’ and I don’t hear so much of that anymore. It’s more like ‘This is what I’m thinking about’ or ‘This is what makes sense for me as opposed to what’s cool or what someone else has.’ I think Money Habitudes helps with that.”

Transitioning from Financial Literacy Seminars to Financial Counseling

The Issue: How to get more people to feel comfortable attending financial literacy classes – and then to seek out financial counseling. An important component is to help people understand that improving one’s finances is often about more than just the math or doing a budget.
Who: Sally Massey Wiebe is a Financial Counsellor with Community Financial Counselling Services. CFCS is a United Way-supported non-profit based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Community Financial Counselling ServicesWhat: CFCS often works with vulnerable, high-risk populations. It partners with other interrelated organizations around workforce readiness, free tax preparation or gambling. It provides services for:

  • financial counseling
  • debt management
  • gambling addiction
  • employment and income assistance issues
  • financial literacy (consumer education/information)


  • While much of CFCS’s work is done in individual or couples counseling, the organization raises awareness for its services (credit counseling, debt management, etc.) by doing financial literacy seminars. This may be for community groups, other organizations, or the public.
  • These financial literacy seminars often address behavioral economics and behavioral finance. The goal is to get people to see that values, behaviors, habits, attitudes and emotions play a significant role in financial decision-making. CFCS’s financial seminars stress that fixing one’s finances is not just about math.
  • Massey Wiebe notes that addressing financial habits and attitudes as opposed to just doing a budget, is also a friendlier, more human introduction to what can be a difficult, scary topic.
  • In financial seminars, Massey Wiebe talks about the Money Habitudes methodology, mentioning the different money personality types and the way these affect people’s financial decision-making process. She also tells participants about the Money Habitudes cards and offers to let people use them when they return for financial counseling. Participants discuss the basic Money Habitudes types, but do not actually use the cards in the awareness seminar. “Even without having gone through the exercise in great detail, there’s an awareness of the significant differences between the Money Habitudes types that allows people to say, ‘Oh, I can see where that might be an issue for me.’ I encourage them to explore the concepts further by coming in to meet with us and do the Money Habitudes exercise.”
  • For Canada’s annual Financial Literacy Month, CFCS put on a seminar called, “Is It Just About Money?” which made people aware of the behavioral components of personal finance, rather than just focusing on tallying accounts, doing a budget or filling out a spreadsheet. “That message resonated with people. We had 30 people in our class. From the feedback we got, it certainly seemed that this approach made sense where a ‘how to do a budget’ session probably wouldn’t have gotten people to attend,” said Massey Wiebe.
  • When people come in for individual or couples counseling, they are offered the opportunity to use the Money Habitudes cards. Some also specifically request the activity after hearing about the cards in the larger financial seminar.
  • A first financial counseling session usually lasts one and a half hours. It not only involves assessing the client’s situation but also laying a foundation for a strong, trusting relationship. Couples may sometimes choose to do the Money Habitudes activity separately with a counselor instead of sorting their cards at the same time.
  • CFCS tends to develop long-term relationships and works to address financial issues holistically, rather than just servicing debt or providing credit counseling and ignoring other issues.


  • “Money Habitudes helps them put all the pieces of their financial puzzle on the table and see if they’re achieving what they want to achieve, where there are obstacles they create for themselves, and where there are solutions that can be facilitated with a new understanding and new perspective of why they do what they do with their money.”
  • “There’s often a sense of ‘I’ve tried to do a budget so many times and blown it every single time, so why would I want to put myself through that again? Instead, it’s important to understand why we get ourselves into the financial predicaments we do by seeing it from a different perspective.”
  • “Money Habitudes can be a way to help people discover what they do or have been doing, what are advantages of changing that, or understand how they relate to their partner in a real, hands-on way that can, in some cases, encapsulate several sessions of discussion just by looking at the result from the That’s me pile. We can dissect it further, but it really gives us a good place to start.”
  • “We’re trying to get people to realize that it’s not that you’re stupid or lame or unable. It’s because there’s this information that runs behind the scenes – you’re not even thinking about what you do – so let’s go to that place and translate it to how it affects the decisions you make about your budget or your credit.”
  • “It’s really crucial that it’s not just about, ‘Let’s do the math!’ It’s about, ‘Let’s understand what you have to deal with already. And Money Habitudes is an engaging, non-threatening way to help people recognize patterns and perspectives on money.”

Financial Capability in a Life Skills Program: Foster Kids Transitioning out of Foster Care

Ready by 21 foster care financial capability programThe Issue: How to better prepare foster kids transitioning out of the foster care system; this includes financial capability , among other life skills modules.
Who: Meghann Shutt, program manager for financial security at Baltimore CASH Campaign. The organization received a grant to participate in Maryland’s Ready by 21 program for foster kids.
What: Geared for foster youth ageing out of the foster care system, Ready by 21 teaches life skills for independent living. Each year, the two-week program teaches five groups of 20 foster kids. Most are 17-19 years old. The effort involves the Governor’s Office for Children, Department of Human Resources, Department of Juvenile Services, Department of Education and the Workforce Investment Board. A program goal is for all youth to be financially literate. Financial education classes dovetail with students’ choice of: pursuing an associate’s and bachelor’s degree; enrolling in job training programs; or direct job placement. Students receive a stipend as part of the life skills program.

  • The financial education component of Ready by 21 is three 90-minute classes: Pump Up Your Piggybank, You Can Bank On It, and Rock Your Credit Score.
  • The first financial class starts with an introduction and a pre-test on financial knowledge. It then moves to a financial habits and values module.
    • Students do a word association exercise using money, wealth, debt, etc.
    • They then do the Money Habitudes card sorting activity. This leads to a group discussion about where money personalities come from and how one’s Money Habitudes mix might help or hurt one’s financial future. There is also discussion about why knowing your own unique money personality type matters.
    • Students then talk about SMART goal setting.
    • The class concludes by talking about building wealth, doing a budget and setting goals.
    • Homework is to track spending for 30 days and relate it to the budget, money personality and goals.
  • Each student has his or her own deck of Money Habitudes cards. Rather than enforcing silence, students can talk and laugh.
  • Shutt allows about 30 minutes to sort the cards – a bit longer than other groups that might be faster readers. Students then read the interpretation cards to get a sense of their money personality. They learn how their spending and saving tendencies affect their lives.
    • So what do you think?
    • Is anyone comfortable sharing the cards you got?
    • Do you think the cards describe you?
    • Did any of the statements really sound like you?
    • Do you see how your different Money Habitudes tendencies work together or work against each other?
  • It may take a moment for people to open up. “I don’t jump in to fill the silence after asking for people to share. A mistake a lot of facilitators make is they want to fill the silence too quickly,” Shutt says. “It’s so surprising how much people really love to share.”
  • Students keep their Money Habitudes results in mind when tackling issues like budgets and banking and credit in the next classes.
  • Other activities used in the context of doing Money Habitudes may be:
    • A discussion about sharing “your first money memory.”
    • Two teams each get big pieces of paper to brainstorm. One group generates ideas to increase their income; the other group brainstorms ideas to save money. “If the ideas are coming from the people themselves, they’re going to be ideas that make a lot more sense than if they’re ideas coming from me,” says Shutt.


  • “The cards send a signal that this isn’t your regular high school class. It’s going to be fun, they’re going to participate and learn about themselves,” says Shutt.
  • “Because we don’t have a way to talk about money and think about money because it’s so taboo, that’s where the cards really come in. The cards really help people along the path of becoming the expert in their own lives. They’re saying, ‘Maybe I don’t really know how I am with money because no one’s ever asked me. Or I’ve never talked about it with anybody. Or I just don’t have a structure for thinking about it.’ The cards are a really nice jumping off point because they’re a way people can have more information about who they are and how they act with money. Then, when they’re hearing that information for the next three workshops, they have a way of saying, for example, ‘Oh, maybe a savings bond would be good for me because I know I’m more of a spontaneous spender.'”
  • “Kids have so little choice over what’s going on in their lives. It’s fun to say, ‘You’re the expert on you. So we’re going to honor that and you can sort these cards however it makes sense for you. And you can have more information about yourself so when we give you this information, you’re going to know which of these choices is going to be best for you.’ Nobody likes to be told what to do. The cards make people more open and receptive.”
  • “I have them do the card sort and they get excited about it. The cards are so fun and everybody loves hearing about themselves. One girl said, ‘Oh, do these cards know who I am?!’ People will also ask if they can keep them. I think it just immediately warms them to what’s coming next.”
  • “I use the cards as a way to encourage the students to think critically about which option will work for them, acknowledging that not every strategy is right for everybody. We use the cards as a way to open the window so people can see better who they are and how they act with money so that when they’re choosing strategies and tools for reaching whatever their financial goals are, they’re doing it with a mindset of, ‘Well, let me be real with myself about what’s going to work for me and what won’t.'”
  • “Education alone doesn’t get people to change their behaviors. Education plus the behavioral piece and engaging people around their behaviors and how they incorporate this new information into changes, that’s really where I think there’s a possibility for change.”

Financial Education and Relationship Classes that are Fun and Engaging

airman and family financial and relationship classesThe Issue: How to get servicemembers – and their spouses – to want to attend financial education and relationship education classes and come back for more.
Who: Gary Strickland, chief of the Airman and Family Readiness Center (AFRC) at Mountain Home Air Force Base.
What: Mountain Home Air Force Base revolves around the 366th Fighter Wing of the Air Combat Command. Its Airman and Family Readiness Center provides individuals, families and leadership with policy, programs and services that strengthen communities and promote self-sufficiency, mission readiness and adaptation to the Air Force way of life. Although the Airman and Family Readiness Center serves a wide range of servicemembers and their families, many of its students and clients are young airmen who are 18-22.

  • At Mountain Home AFB, Money Habitudes cards are used in three ways:
    • One-hour finance class. Strickland calls this “a teaser.” It has a fun, non-threatening appeal so airmen want to attend. Having had a good experience and taken a financial education class, it opens participants’ eyes to related issues they want more help on: communication, saving, handling credit, TSP, etc. “Once you have them in one class, you want to give enough information about our other classes – not so much that they feel like they have to take the class, but to spark interest to get them to sign up,” says Strickland.
    • A multi-hour block during the base’s all-day finance class. Before diving into other topics like budgeting, students learn about their underlying money mindset. After each individual does the money personality sorting exercise, it transitions to a class conversation about the various Money Habitudes categories. “It leads into a really good discussion,” says Strickland.
    • As a one-hour module in MHAFB’s all-day marriage class, based on the PREP (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program) curriculum. The cards are used to complement PREP’s own brief section on money as well as the role of different personalities in marriage.
  • Many individuals get one-on-one counseling before going to a finance or relationship class. This makes people feel more comfortable in a group environment and decreases any stigma of seeking help from the Airman and Family Readiness Center. “We handle almost every single negative with a personal, individual visit or a series of individual appointments. So by the time the person is put into a class, it’s not seen as a negative,” says Strickland.
  • Finance classes typically have 20 people and are often full. The financial class usually has 80 percent individual airmen; 20 percent are airmen and their spouses. The marriage class is attended by 7-10 couples.


  • Strickland says that the biggest financial issue he sees is the availability of credit. “Military folks gets credit real easy. It’s easy for them to get themselves into debt,” he notes. It’s important to keep airman in good financial shape – and prepare them for the future.
  • Using Money Habitudes makes the classes seem non-threatening and fun – which is important if attendees are going to return for other classes. “Word of mouth is our biggest marketing tool,” says Strickland.
  • Strickland advocates for programs that are active and engaging. In addition to the hands-on Money Habitudes activity, the AFRC’s programs draw on role playing, peer coaching, video clips, projects and group discussion. As a case in point, while the PREP marriage program comes with some 300 PowerPoint slides, the base only utilizes about 25 to underscore main points. “My belief is that the more senses a person engages, the better off they are in gaining and retaining the information,” he says.
  • “One of the classes we do uses the PREP model. PREP includes brief sections on personalities and why couples fight. We looked at those two sections and thought that the different personalities in handling money is so important, so we need more than 5 minutes on those and that’s why we bring in Money Habitudes. And Money Habitudes is catchy and people are going to sign up for that class. It doesn’t take away from PREP but it adds and builds.”

Couples counseling meets financial counseling

The Issue: How to get counseling clients to talk about money issues in a constructive, nonjudgmental manner; blending financial counseling and couples counseling.
Ben Vos, couples counseling in Brentwood, TNWho: Ben Vos, LPC, is a therapist in Brentwood, TN. He works with individuals, couples and families. Vos has developed a specialty in substance abuse and addiction issues. Much of his couples counseling is with couples who are remarried or are contemplating remarriage. In addition, he works with an organization that offers free counseling services to veterans, active duty military and their families.

Combining financial counseling and couples counseling

“Money is an influencing factor in everything,” says Vos, who notes that studies show that money is the most common cause of couples’ fights and, ultimately, divorce.
As of late, Vos believes that the economy causes couples more financial stress. This might be from unemployment or from a lack of savings. “Couples are coming in right now with a lot of shattered dreams,” says Vos. In addition, couples with addiction issues often have financial issues: the cost of addiction, missed wages, and resultant hoarding or keeping money secrets.

Dealing with financial issues in marriage counseling: money values

Vos usually starts couples counseling by doing a genogram to better understand clients’ backgrounds. This discussion touches on the socioeconomic status of their family of origin. While Vos also finds it helpful to do a budget in couples counseling, it has its limits.
“The traditional way I’d have the money conversation is just by pulling out the budget and going line by line and item by item. But then it turns into an accounting exercise. Really the issue is not so much about the numbers or the math. The math can work itself out. The issue where the conflict is taking place is about the values,” says Vos of blending financial counseling.
Often the challenge in couples counseling is to help one person see the other’s point of view. “They’re going to focus on who’s right and who’s wrong and when that happens, it’s really toxic for a relationship. It’s no longer focused on solving problems and much more about winning arguments.”
“I found it’s really helpful to get couples to start having a different kind of conversation about money that’s much more about understanding their values, what’s important to them – and that doesn’t have one right answer,” says Vos.

Money Habitudes in couples counseling and financial counseling

Vos uses a variety of methods in couples counseling “so they’re not just sitting on a couch talking.” This includes getting couples to move around the room, role-playing and drawing. The hands-on Money Habitudes cards not only make couples counseling sessions more engaging, but they also change the dynamic of the money conversation.
“I use Money Habitudes cards to help couples begin that important money conversation, whether they’re just beginning a relationship and are learning about their values as a couple, or whether they been married for thirty years and they’re just trying to figure out how to communicate about these things in a way that’s going to be productive,” says Vos.
Vos sees the cards as helping with the following with respect to financial counseling:

  • Getting away from right versus wrong: “Couples often think that their issue is a money issue, like, ‘If only we had more of it’ or ‘If only we managed it better.’ When in reality, it’s much more about the feelings underneath. Money Habitudes really helps couples to understand each other and those feelings rather than getting into a ‘who’s right and who’s wrong’ conversation. It’s really nice when you watch couples start to understand and appreciate how they balance one another, rather than getting upset because they don’t see things the same way.”
  • Augmenting traditional financial fixes: “There are lots of good things out there if couples are just looking to do things like eliminate debt or try to apply for a better job or whatever. But what I think Money Habitudes does is give couples a way to have conversations that are going to help them be ok, no matter what the circumstances are because they have a deeper understanding of their relationship and what’s important.”

“Money Habitudes is just such an enriching experience because it takes some of the pressure off that couples feel talking about these sensitive issues,” says Vos.