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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.

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.

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.

Teaching a better money class

If you’re a financial educator, how can you teach a better money class? Here are some tips.

Tips to teach a better money class

  1. teach a better money classNo matter if you’re working with adults or teens, a money class should be engaging. It doesn’t have to always be laugh-out-loud fun, but it can’t be boring. Unfortunately when people finally go to a money class, it lives up to their expectations that it’s going to be boring – and then they won’t return to another money class you offer. What makes a class boring? Lots of lecture, PowerPoint and worksheets.
  2. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice some content for a more enjoyable money class. In other words, it can be tempting to cram lots of facts and skills into an hour-long money class, but people don’t retain that.
  3. It’s important for people to feel comfortable in a money class. What makes for an uncomfortable money class?
    1. Partly it’s the environment: a windowless room, uncomfortable chairs, etc.
    2. And partly it’s the feel of the money class. If the first thing you have people do is write down their money mistakes or fill out a budget worksheet with their income and expenses, it makes it even harder for people to feel comfortable and talk about money.
  4. A money class that is just about how to do a budget probably won’t be well received. This can be too much math and too many numbers too quickly. Think about gradually working towards a budget, not doing it right out of the gate.
  5. Get people involved in your money class from the start. Just reading from a PowerPoint presentation won’t do that. Think about mulch-sensory activities. What ice breakers can you add? Can you get people to draw or create with their hands? Can you get them to talk? Think about what would make you want to be in your class as opposed to focusing on what students should be learning.

How does Money Habitudes make for a better money class?

  1. Money Habitudes is an engaging activity. Designed like a deck of cards and used like money management games, it’s hands-on and lots more fun than a worksheet or lecture.
  2. It acts as a financial ice breaker or introduction. Use it for 15-20 minutes at the start of a money class – or as a longer standalone class – and see how people react better to other financial skills like doing a budget.
  3. As a financial conversation starter, it helps people feel much more comfortable talking about money. There’s a big difference between a class where students open up, share and interact with each other and a teacher versus one where they don’t want to talk about money. That the money game gets people to laugh and smile in a money class is a big change versus most money classes.
  4. It makes material more relevant and personal – and helps people really understand their spending habits. It’s one thing to just tell someone to “save more” but it’s totally different to have someone realize for himself that (a) he needs to save more, and (b) a way to do that is by spending less on clothes and shoes every month. The card game activity helps people understand their own money personality and how to change their spending habits to find a healthier balance.
  5. As an introduction or standalone class, one of the most important roles that the activity plays is to put a friendly non-threatening face or a program, class or teacher. Instead of thinking, “I don’t like this,” students are more apt to say, “This is fun. I’d do more financial education with this person or organization in the future.”

Low literacy financial education materials

About a year ago, we started studying how to produce materials for low literacy audiences. (The result was our new version of award-winning Money Habitudes for Adults, released in November.) Why?
We originally designed the Money Habitudes statements to be quick and easy to read. However, we didn’t anticipate how widely they’d be adopted. The money conversation starter was originally designed to be used by a much smaller population, largely focused around financial planning and retirement planning. However, it has increasingly been used in financial education and financial literacy programs to help people talk about money.

The needs of low literacy audiences

In soliciting feedback from users over the years – it’s been 10 years since Money Habitudes came out! – we noticed a lot of organizations were doing financial education for low literacyliteracy audiences. They use the cards as an ice breaker, conversation starter and as a tool to help people understand the psychology of money. They told us that they wished the cards were written at a lower grade level. Participants liked using the cards because they felt fun like money management games, but:

  • There were cases where people were obviously struggling to read the statements and understand them. It might appear that participants got through the cards quickly but hadn’t necessarily comprehended the statements.
  • In other cases, it would take a long time for people to read the materials, so the whole class would take longer to do.
  • Sometimes facilitators needed to help students read the materials. This made it difficult in a financial class setting.

low literacy financial educationWho were those groups? Of course, there’s a wide spectrum in terms of who reads at a low grade level. However, most of the feedback about reading level came from groups like prisoner reentry programs, and a variety of asset building organizations doing financial education for low-to-moderate income audiences of adult learners. That might include public housing agencies, job readiness organizations or food banks that also offer financial education and assistance. Additionally, there was a need for statements in simple English for groups working with non-native speakers like immigrant and refugee agencies. (We do have a version of Money Habitudes in Spanish though.)
The challenge we faced then was something that confronts many organizations: How to write financial education materials for low literacy audiences? Of course, many organizations don’t realize how hard their materials are to use with low literacy audiences. Some have never tried to make them more accessible. It’s understandable. After all, to come up with materials that seem simple and easy to understand is actually quite complicated and very time consuming.
Further, our goal was to make our financial education materials much easier to read while preserving the spirit of the cards and, in the end, people’s money personality results.

Determining reading level for low literacy financial education materials

There are a number of formulae to determine reading level. Each different reading level formula uses similar metrics, but weights them differently. As a result, the different methods produce slightly different readability results. In other words, there is no universal agreement on what “8th-grade reading” level is.
These readability scales take into account factors such as:

  • The number of characters per word.
  • The number of words per sentence.
  • The number of syllables per word.

Those reading-level scales include the following:

As would be expected, long sentences with lots of multi-syllabic words translate to higher grade levels (i.e., high literacy and reading proficiency). Simple sentences with simple words score at a lower reading level.
For a number of reasons, we decided to use the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scale. It’s widely used and understood and was fairly easy to work with. It measures readability in terms of school grade levels. We also used the Flesch Reading Ease scale as a secondary metric.

Choosing reading level and writing low literacy materials

The first step was to score all 54 of our existing Money Habitudes statement cards. This was a fairly straightforward but laborious process. Although there are a number of websites where you can enter text, push a button, and get a readability score, many of them turn out to be inaccurate. The biggest issue was in correctly measuring the number of syllables per word. So we resorted to a hybrid version of using some software and some simple counting by hand to get the Flesch-Kincaid and the Reading Ease scores.
We decided that we wanted all of the new statements to score at or below a 5th-grade reading level. This would make the material very broadly accessible. The Flesch-Kincaid formula for what “5th grade” means is quite complicated, but it basically means that most words would be a single syllable, with perhaps a few two-syllable words and the occasional three-syllable word. In short, we felt that going below 5th-grade wouldn’t make the cards much more accessible than if they were written at fifth-grade. Also, it becomes almost unfeasible to talk about spending habits and financial behaviors using monosyllabic third-grade or fourth-grade language. Fifth-grade felt about as low as we could reasonably go without having to change the whole nature of how our Money Habitudes conversation starter and ice breaker tool works.
Of course, it’s easier to err on the side of making material too easy to read versus writing it for higher-level readers. Someone who reads at a 12th-grade level will have no problem reading material at 5th-grade. On the other hand, someone reading at 5th-grade will not be able to read material geared for 12th grade.
Thankfully many of the old statements were already written at a very basic reading level. For those that weren’t, we then had to rewrite them to be more basic. (As a side note, we also reworded statements that used idioms and those that were worded with a negative – no, not, don’t, etc. – to make them easier to read.)

Actual examples: changing high-literacy to low literacy statements

Here’s a real example of the evolution of a single Money Habitudes statement.
The original statement from the Adult deck of cards read:

“Everything I buy is practical and functional.”

In many ways it is a good statement. This is partly because:

  • It’s short and direct.
  • It uses everyday words.
  • It doesn’t use financial jargon.
  • It doesn’t require any math.
  • It doesn’t have lots of clauses or different tenses.

However, this statement has 7 words with a combined 13 syllables. Consequently it scores at a 12.43 grade level. The words “everything” and “practical” and “functional” look innocuous but are long, have a lot of syllables. Also, the “tional” part of “functional” can be hard for those with low reading ability because it isn’t pronounced as it would be read phonetically.
We then tried other wording choices to make it easier to read. Some of these we didn’t use because they didn’t score well enough. Some we didn’t use because they scored at a low reading level, but didn’t make sense or didn’t preserve the original meaning. So, after a number of iterations, that statement became:

“I only buy things that are useful and practical.”

This still has 13 syllables but in 9 words, making each word easier to read. It scores at a 4.96 grade level. It is easier to read and looks friendlier for those reading at a low grade level. After all, the first word is now one character and one syllable instead of 10 characters and three syllables. It’s also more direct, placing the subject, “I” squarely at the beginning of the thought.
What we hoped is the new statements would preserve the meaning of the old ones and be easy to read for low literacy audiences. We also wanted statements that would not feel too elementary when read by high-literacy audiences.
The new version of the Money Habitudes cards are all written at 5th-grade or below. In fact, many of the new statements score well below that ceiling, so the average reading level for the entire deck is considerably less than 5th-grade.

Tips: How to write low literacy financial education materials

There is a previous post with tips about writing low literacy materials for financial education. Of course, these tips are applicable to writing materials for any low literacy audience, be they kids or adult learners.

Results of Editing Material to Be Used In Low Literacy Settings

What we’ve heard from users in the field who have used the new low literacy cards has been very heartening. Some basic feedback:

  1. The money personality sorting results that people get are still accurate. In addition, people still tend to identify strongly in saying that the “That’s Me” cards really do paint an accurate picture of them.
  2. The sorting process is perceptively faster for all users, be they high-literacy or low literacy. Where it might have taken someone 15 minutes to read the 54 cards before, it might now take 10 minutes.
  3. The cards are now more accessible to low literacy audiences.
  4. People reading significantly higher than 5th-grade don’t find the cards too basic or stilted.


User feedback about the new low literacy version

Here’s some feedback that’s emblematic of how people find the new low literacy version:
I started out using the original Money Habitudes cards and I noticed that the ladies I would have in class would not have as many cards in the piles as they should. Since most of the classes I would teach consisted of women that may or may not have graduated high school and most of them were lower income, I would offer to explain the cards to them if they needed more clarification. There were times they would ask but some, I could tell, were too prideful to ask.  
I was very excited to receive the new cards and could not wait to test them out. I played the game in the next workshop and asked the young ladies that had already played to participate again and let me know if the cards were easier to understand. Each person had the correct amount of cards and the ladies who played it previously said the cards were much easier to read and they seemed to enjoy the game a lot more the second time around.
The new and improved Money Habitudes game has been more fun and has sparked a lot more conversation.

L. Rachel Valentine
Real$ense/Duval County Extension volunteer financial educator
United Way of Northeast Florida

Tips: How to write low-literacy financial education materials

A few months ago, we released a new version of our Money Habitudes cards. This version is written with low-literacy financial education audiences in mind. All of the money personality statements were written at 5th-grade reading level or below. This enables them to be used with high-literacy audiences as well as low-literacy audiences. Low literacy users might include prisoner reentry groups, job readiness programs and a variety of asset building organizations that do financial education. In reexamining our materials, here are some tips for how to write low-literacy financial education materials:

  1. Having quantitative metrics like the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score is very helpful. (We set up our own way to measure in Excel, using that formula.) It’s very hard to just eye a sentence and guess at what the reading level is. The discipline of knowing something was too high a reading level – even if it was a function of a single syllable – kept us from drifting away from the low-literacy goal of fifth-grade that we set.
  2. Even sentences that look “easy to read” can score very poorly on a reading level scale. The higher the reading level of the person writing the materials, the harder it can be to simplify statements and really understand the needs of low-level readers.
  3. low-literacy reading levelSimply making two sentences out of one longer sentence often leads to a dramatic improvement in readability.
  4. At least with our 5th-grade goal, it was very difficult to use 3-syllable words. Unfortunately, there are some words that we would have liked to have used more, but we had to be very judicious in their use.
    1. This includes words like financial, insurance, investments, bargaining, negotiation, etc.
    2. Even words used in the context of financial management needed simpler alternatives, such as: opportunities, unexpected, emergency, advantage, responsibility, sacrifice, education.
  5. Simple present tense declarative statements are easier than other tenses. Instead of saying, “I like to go shopping,” it’s easier to say, “I like to shop.” Similarly, it can be helpful to flip nouns, verbs and adjectives into their other forms. So where one might say, “I am very knowledgeable about investing,” it could read like, “I know a lot about how to invest.” That’s a difference between 12th-grade and 2nd-grade.
  6. Sometimes it’s beneficial to let the reader assume what you’re talking about. For example, we might replace a statement like, “I will save my money in order to …” with one that says, “I will save in order to …” and let the reader assume we’re talking about “my money.”
  7. In some cases, we accepted wording that was more colloquial and less proper. For example, to say you “get” something could replace “understand” and save two syllables – and seven characters.
  8. Similarly, we might accept a statement that reads a little awkwardly versus one that reads flawlessly but needs a lot of words or more complicated words. In some cases this might use a fragment or start a sentence with “That” or “This” to allow breaking one long thought into two simple ones.
  9. Using lists can save words and syllables and make for easier reading.
  10. A thesaurus is helpful, not for finding more colorful words, but in finding more basic ways to think of how to say something.

Psychology of Money – Money Personality

The psychology of money can be hard to understand. Why do we spend the way we spend? Why do we save? Why might two siblings see money so differently? What do you think about money? How do you feel about money?

What influences the psychology of money?

Although it’s a big topic, Money Habitudes makes the psychology of money easy to understand – for professionals (therapists, financial planners) and for laypeople. Money Habitudes feels like a fun card game. However it is actually a structured conversation starter and a money personality test in one. The assessment cards explain the psychology of money in terms of one’s money personality. It is a practical, applied use of the psychology of money.
Money Habitudes helps people see what influences the way they see money. Typical money psychology influences include:

  • family - psychology of moneyCulture (including religion)
  • Parents and influential people; family of origin
  • Media
  • Personal experiences

People rarely think about their own money psychology. Therefore, it can be a breakthrough to understand why they see money the way they do. While this is true for individuals and couples, it’s especially true for people whose work touches on the psychology of money: therapists and mental health providers, financial planners, financial educators, life planners, and money coaches.

Implications of money psychology

brain - psychology of moneyUnderstanding the psychology of money is not only about understanding formative factors, but also how this affects one’s life today. The Money Habitudes money personality test clarifies one’s:

  • money habits
  • money attitudes
  • money values
  • financial behaviors

This is important because so many of the issues around money deal with behavior change: How to save more money? How to spend less money? How to not fight about money?
When one understands money psychology, it opens the door to positive behavior change.