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Reliability of Money Habitudes

Presented at the:

National Council on Family Relations

November 16, 2011

Lucy Delgadillo

Alena Johnson

Samantha Nelson

Previous literature supports the premise that family finance is related to marital satisfaction (Henry et al. 2005, Stanley et al. 2002, Bryant et al. 2008).  Many family relations and finance educators are looking for resources to aid in teaching couples how to more effectively manage their money.  Developed for this purpose, Money Habitudes is a game-like tool that educators and counselors use to investigate the financial habits and attitudes of couples and individuals. The premise is that these “habitudes affect our decisions and actions related to money” (Solomon, 2009).  The purpose of the Money Habitudes activity is to get people talking about their habits and attitudes when it comes to money.  This can be especially helpful when working with couples.
This study will present evidence for the reliability analysis of the Money Habitudes statements used in the activity.  There are six different Money Habitudes or “domains” with nine items related to each domain.  The Money Habitudes are:  spontaneous, targeted goals, selfless, free spirit, status, and security.  The Money Habitudes exercise consists of going through a deck of cards with statements such as, “I rarely buy anything unless I can pay it off right away.”  Participants then decide if they feel each statement is like them or not like them.  There are fifty-four statements, nine in each Habitude.  Subjective measures of each domain were reported by each individual.  Measurements were taken of the internal reliability of the items within each domain.

Learning Objectives

  1. Attendees will be able to identify the Money Habitudes exercise as a tool for couples and money management education.
  2. Attendees will be able to engage in a discussion about the reliability of the Money Habitudes statements.
  3. Attendees will begin to determine the usefulness of the Money Habitudes exercise in their own professions.

Review of Literature

Among the top issues that married couples face are those of a financial nature.  In fact, Albrecht, Bahr, and Goodman (1983) claim that one of the most significant stressors a married couple can experience is the inability to meet basic economic needs.  Across previous research, stress that stems from financial hardship has been highly associated with marital conflict, risk of dissolution, emotional distress, and many other serious family problems (Conger et al., 1990).  The connection between finances and family relations is of particular importance in light of the recent recession from which the United States is still reeling—turbulent economic factors appear to amplify family distress, and consequently affect the dynamics of familial relationships.  In understanding the depth of the connection between financial and relational factors, practitioners can more efficiently and effectively select resources—such as the Money Habitudes—to improve the relational and financial well-being of couples.

One of the key pieces of research in this area is a study performed by Conger and colleagues in 1999.  Conger is one of the premiere researchers connecting the fields of family economics and marital relations.  He is most famous for his family stress model of economic stress influences on marital distress.  In a study that empirically evaluated that model, Conger and his colleagues (1999) tested a group of married couples on their resilience to economic pressure.  The purpose of that study was to examine factors that might protect couples from economic pressure, or feelings of financial distress.

Beyond the discovery of a strong link between economic pressure, marital distress, and marital conflict, Conger et al. (1999) also examined the buffering effects of social support and couples’ problem-solving skills.  They found that in times of economic woe, couples that were able to give one another emotional support were more resilient to the stresses they faced.

This social support included reassurances of worth, expressions of affection, and careful listening (Conger et al., 1999).  In addition, the ability of couples to evaluate their economic troubles and use effective problem-solving techniques was shown to have a buffering effect against economic duress.  Several other studies have similarly discovered strong links between financial factors and marital factors.  Dew (2008), for instance, provided evidence of a strong relationship between change in debt and its effect on marital satisfaction change in recently married couples.

Higginbotham and Felix’s (2009) investigated economic predictors of marital quality and showed that economic pressure increased the likelihood of hostility and diminished emotional warmth, which then increased risk of marital conflict and subsequent marital outcomes.  Based on the assumption that an inability to meet basic economic needs constitute a significant stressor in married life, Kinnunen and Feldt (2004) provided more evidence of a strong relationship between finances and relationship quality.  Skogrand and colleagues (2010) qualitatively examined the financial management practices of couples with self-proclaimed great marriages, finding that trust, communication, low levels of debt, and frugality were common characteristics.  The list of such studies goes on, furthering the point that a couple’s finances and their relationship quality are very much intertwined.

While it is clear that finances and family relations are strongly connected within the context of couple well-being, each field’s practitioners have seen very few tools and techniques that can effectively combine them.  The process of identifying such potential resources is a task yet to be thoroughly undertaken.  Money Habitudes is one of these potential resources that many educators and counselors have found to be effective in fostering dialogue on money among couples but it has not been evaluated in its reliability.  Hence, the aim of this paper is to help contribute to the task of merging these two important fields by evaluating the reliability of the Money Habitudes tool.


Students in a western state university class were asked to participate in the study.  Students that were willing to participate completed the survey online.  They were asked to choose, on a five point scale, if each statement was “not at all like me” up to “very much like me.”  There was no identifying information collected with the data.   The first wave of data collection was conducted in Spring 2010. No funding was provided to conduct this research.


The data was collected from a survey that was available online to students in a western state university class.  Statements such as “I always save or invest a set amount of money each month” were presented to the students to decide if they thought the statement was like them or not like them.  There were fifty-four statements presented.  Because the Money Habitudes tool itself was being examined, not the participants, demographic information from the participants was not collected.


We drew participants from campus and online sections of a one-semester class at a western university, collecting a total of 280 surveys. The campus section had 296 students enrolled, while the online section had 96. We achieved a response rate of 71.4% for this study.

Analysis and Results

This paper is exploratory in nature and it represents the first stage of ongoing research on the reliability of the different domains in the Money Habitudes exercise.   The authors did not generate the items for any of the six different Money Habitudes domains. We requested permission from the original creator of Money Habitudes to validate the items and secured Institutional Review Board approval before conducting the study.
The study aimed to empirically measure the reliability of the domains and offer suggestions to the author on improving existing items. For this purpose, we chose the Cronbach alpha procedure for the reliability and item analysis of each domain.  Cronbach  provides a model of internal consistency, based on the average inter-item correlation.  In other words, it is a useful statistical procedure that provides information about the relationships between individual items in a scale.
Taken together, all the six domains in Money Habitudes passed the minimum standards  or reliability acceptable in the Social Sciences.  Coefficient alphas for the six scales vary from .59 to .75.  The nine items in the Spontaneous domain produced an alpha coefficient of .75; Targeted Goals, .714;  Status, .695; Free Spirit, .652; Selfless .593 and Security, .590. Indications have abundantly shown that an alpha value between .7 and .8 is acceptable for Cronbach’s alphas; nevertheless, Cortina (1993) warns that one should use such general guidelines with caution because the value of alpha depends on the number of items on the scale.
Table 1:   Reported Cronbrach’s Alpha for each of the Scales.

Scale or DomainReported Alpha
Free Spirit0.652

Considering that two scales, Spontaneous and Targeted Goals, have alphas above .7, and Status gravitates near .7, we concentrated efforts on the Security, Selfless, and Free Spirit domains, which yielded the lowest alphas (.590, .593, and .652, respectively).

The first step in further analyzing these scales was to examine the feature “Cronbach’s alpha deleted” as reported by PASW (aka SPSS). Once again, the approach was not to delete the item that will increase the alpha but to make recommendations on how to improve it.  On the security scale, one problematic item was “I want to be able to get to my money right away, so I like it to be very accessible.”  The reason why this item was problematic was that the statement encompasses an issue of accessibility rather than safety.  The proposed changed was “I like to put my money where it is as safe as possible.”

On the Selfless scale, one problematic item negatively stated, “I do not trust people who have an extravagant lifestyle.” The recommendation was to structure the item positively.   Steward and Frye (2004) investigated the use of negatively phrased survey items in medical education settings.  In their studies, they concluded that negatively phrased items affect reliability and validity, and therefore, they recommend employing negative items with care. The proposed change for this particular item was “I think people who have a lot of money should give generously to help others.”

Finally, the Free Spirit item states, “I like to keep my options open,” following the recommendation to word this item positively and simply. We will test the performance of these three new items in a second wave of data collection scheduled for March 2012.

Implications for Practice

Counselors and educators working with couples and money issues may seek effective resources.  The Money Habitudes exercise has gained popularity over the past several years as a tool for initiating communication between couples.  However, the statements in the Money Habitudes exercise have not been evaluated for reliability.  The purpose of this study was to examine the internal reliability of these statements.  After reading this study, counselors and educators will have a better understanding of the reliability of the Money Habitudes tool.

The Money Habitudes of Spontaneous, Targeted Goals, and Status appear to exhibit adequate internal reliability as they currently stand.  The Money Habitudes of Selfless, Free Spirit, and Security may benefit from minor changes.  Educators and counselors could eliminate the three mentioned problematic statements when conducting the exercise. We will collect further data with changes made to these three statements.
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