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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.

Integrating the Emotional and Behavioral Aspects of Personal Finance into Financial Education

The Issue: How to effectively train financial educators and coaches about the behavioral and emotional side of personal finance so they better understand the concepts and themselves and are thus better able to help their clients and students.

Maryland CASH integrates emotional and behavioral aspects of personal finance in financial educationWho: Robin McKinney, MSW, is the director and co-founder of the Maryland CASH Campaign. A veteran of the asset building field, McKinney was previously the program assistant for Family Economic Success at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. She was also the assistant director at the East Harbor Community Development Corporation’s MoneyWise Café, a one-stop shop for free and low-cost tax preparation, financial coaching and education and access to affordable financial services. She served on the Steering Committee for the National Community Tax Coalition (NCTC) and the board of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, Civil Justice Network and the Rural Maryland Foundation.

What: The Maryland CASH (Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope) Campaign is a statewide network of organizations that promote financial stability for working families. The organization coordinates financial education practitioners, while focusing on three main initiatives: capacity building and training, financial education and research and advocacy. The organization uses Money Habitudes as a standard training component for its own financial educators and coaches, as well as in financial education training it does for other organizations.

  • McKinney builds Money Habitudes into all of her organization’s practitioner trainings. Facilitators are expected to understand not just the numbers and budgeting side of financial education and coaching, but also the behavioral aspects of how and why people spend and save.
  • As a part of Maryland CASH’s standard financial education training, McKinney focuses on the emotional and behavioral sides of money; each trainee discovers his or her own Money Habitudes money personality.
  • Following the Money Habitudes financial self-assessment, she has practitioners do a version of the budgeting bean game, a tool that  helps participants understand how personality and money values affect actual financial decision-making. “Throughout the day of training for facilitators, at some point, 99 percent of people in the audience have a realization that their own money habits, attitudes and values have been getting in the way of what they’re trying to do with their clients,” says McKinney.
  • Practitioners (social workers, financial educators, etc.) not only learn how to work with the cards to better understand how they relate to money, but also so they can do the activity with end-user clients. This may be as a class activity or in one-on-one coaching. The cards are included as a tool for Maryland CASH partners and their staff.
  • The cards are also used as a mid-conversation energizer in financial coaching and counseling. “If you’re stuck or someone is just shutting down, pick out a card and use it as a discussion point that’s outside the current situation,” says McKinney.
  • In addition to training financial educators and coaches, Maryland CASH conducts standalone workshops on topics such as savings and spending plans. In these financial workshops, the organization uses the cards in a classroom setting with end-users.


Making it easy to talk about money

  • The playing cards and format are non-threatening. “What’s really nice about having people answer those statements is you’re basically asking them their opinion on something that’s separate from themselves. You’re getting a lot of information about how they personally think and feel about things without asking them personal financial questions. You’re not asking them, ‘How much money do you have in credit card debt?’ or ‘Why do you think you got in so much credit card debt?’ With the Money Habitudes statements, you get towards the same answer, but people don’t have to feel interrogated.”

Broadly applicable and easy to use

  • “It’s a tool that works equally well with practitioners and clients and I like to train practitioners with tools that they can turn around and use with their clients.”
  • They’re flexible and can be used effectively in almost any situation. “I can pick up that deck of cards and get into a good money conversation with anyone,” says McKinney. “I carry them with me. I seriously have a deck in my purse at all times because I use them so frequently. It’s a go-to, no matter what I do.”
  • They’re easy to use. “You could literally pick this deck of cards up with no training, with no investment in staff time except for the deck of cards and figure out how to do it – and do something meaningful with it. People are always looking for tools that are plug-and-play. And the cards are just ‘play’ – there’s nothing to ‘plug.’ It’s that fast. To have something that’s a quick pick-up tool, but is this effective is very rare. It’s a minimum investment for a maximum return.”

Integrating financial behaviors and emotions into financial education

  • “The emotional and behavioral side of money is new. And it’s the harder part and it’s really connected to self-efficacy. A lot of our human service workforce, because they’ve never really been trained in how to talk to people about their finances, instead perform tasks with clients such as doing a budget. Talking about your underlying beliefs about money is a hard conversation,” says McKinney.
  • The exercise helps financial educators and coaches better understand themselves, better relate to their clients and better understand the behaviors behind saving and spending habits. “I always felt a missing component of financial education was being able to discuss the emotional side of money and what’s underneath someone’s habits and behaviors. And this is the first thing I start with. I feel like everyone needs to get rooted in this to even understand how we frame how to work with people around their money.”
  • “Basic financial management is about math. It’s about the black and white numbers of what’s coming in and what’s going out. But when it comes to financial decision-making, setting goals and being able to achieve your goals and do what you want to do, that’s where emotion comes in. And as we all know, emotions have a huge role to play in financial decision-making. There are lots of tools and calculators and spreadsheets to help us manage the black and white, math part of finances. But we really don’t have a way to even start the conversation about how to deal with the emotional side and the Money Habitudes activity is one way to start that conversation,” says McKinney.
  • “I don’t think people are intentionally not including this behavioral component; I just think people don’t understand until they see it how important and vital it is to what they’re doing. Instead, people are teaching stock, off-the-shelf financial education and then wondering why they’re not getting the outcomes they want to see.”

Making financial conversations more meaningful

  • “I use the Money Habitudes cards in all of our practitioner trainings which are about preparing the human workforce to deliver financial stability services. It’s part of our standard training. For us, it’s a basic tenet that anyone that is doing this work and working with us should know and understand and be articulate about.”
  • “The cards get you that Aha! moment. You see the wheels turning and people really thinking, ‘Oh, I hadn’t thought about that!’ It’s something new. You can teach things like credit scores and it’ll be new information and people will say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know they collect that,’ but it’s different with the cards where someone says, ‘I didn’t realize that about myself!'”

Making Financial Planning Classes Relevant and Engaging

financial planning classesThe Issue: How to get participants in financial planning classes to look at how and why they spend and save. Also, how to talk about money in a fun, non-threatening and engaging way.
Who: Robert Cain is an investment advisor in Scottsdale, AZ with Arque Capital Ltd.
What: Cain has used Money Habitudes cards in financial planning seminars and individual client meetings.

  • Cain runs a two-part financial planning seminar for prospective clients. Each of the financial planning classes is two hours. Class size is about a dozen. The fee for the class only covers per-person expenses.
  • Cain begins his financial planning classes by putting retirement in a life planning context. “When we think about retirement planning, we often think about saving money but the non-financial aspects are often overlooked,” he says.
  • In lieu of examining finances right off, participants evaluate their satisfaction and effort across 12 lifestyle dimensions. These include community/charity, family/relatives, spirituality/religion, spouse/romance, etc. Participants look for a gap that shows someone wants to do something but isn’t doing it.
  • Following the lifestyle evaluation exercise, Cain used to devote time to telling attendees about various opportunities available to them (such as which community organizations to seek out for volunteering, etc.). However, he replaced this section of his financial planning seminar – about 20 PowerPoint slides – with the Money Habitudes conversation starter. “I said in lieu of that, we’re going to play a card game,” he says. He still made the other information available to attendees to look at on their own.
  • Attendees had time to sort their own deck of the financial conversation starter cards and then go through the money personality self-assessment process. Cain allowed about 30 minutes for the ice breaker activity. “I explained to them that this kind of thing can help them understand why they behave the way they do with their money and it also helps me understand where their heads are when they meet with me. I get an idea of what kind of thinker they are. I thought it was definitely meaningful for them,” he says. He watched the instructional DVD to prepare for this portion of his financial planning classes.
  • Where attendees had no cards, Cain had them pay attention to the advantages of adding in benefits of that money personality category. As a financial planner, Cain knows part of his job is helping clients feel comfortable with their finances. This might mean showing them that they can take that trip or buy that new car.
  • Attendees got to take home their own deck of cards after the financial workshop to revisit the money personality profile. “They kept the cards so they could use them later on their own and maybe pull them out and do them with their kids or grandkids.”


  • Using Money Habitudes cards provides an energizing, interactive break from lecture-and-PowerPoint presentations typical of financial planning classes.
  • The financial conversation starter makes it easier and more natural to get to know a client. “It’s a good way to open up a conversation as opposed to just doing the interrogation, the fact-finding. It opens up a different category of thinking versus just ‘stocks and bonds,'” says Cain.
  • As a money ice breaker, the cards are non-threatening. “It’s like you’re not making a judgment. You’re letting the cards speak for them.”

Teaching Financial Literacy Classes to Teens and Senior Citizens

cornell extension financial literacy classesTeaching financial literacy classes can be difficult. Talking about money intimates people and they often wait until hardship strikes before seeking help. Therefore, financial educator Nancy Reigelsperger knows she needs to make her financial literacy classes not only practical, but non-threatening and enjoyable as well. It’s especially important to hook younger people, but working with adults also requires that the financial literacy classes grab their attention.
As an educator with Cornell University Cooperative Extension, Nancy Reigelsperger traverses her upstate New York territory offering:

One constant among the diverse groups is that people want to be better with their finances, but are slow to make helpful changes.
“There are a lot of people out there who need this information, but they don’t believe that. So they only come in when they’re in crisis mode,” says Reigelsperger.
Adults who attend her financial literacy classes say that they wished they’d had more financial education earlier in life. Those skills would have helped them avoid losing their homes, racking up credit card debt or declaring bankruptcy.
“They’ll say to me, ‘Nobody ever talked to me about finances. Nobody ever showed me that.’ We hear that a lot,” she says.

Financial literacy classes for teens

It is, therefore, not surprising that Reigelsperger believes so strongly in educating young people about personal finance. Although the New York school system leaves little time for life skills, teachers ask Reigelsperger to do financial in-services for their students. These teachers know what Reigelsperger knows: people hope that kids get solid financial advice at home, but the reality is that either parents don’t have time, don’t make time or don’t know how to deal with finances in a healthy way themselves.
“It’s living skills and teens really need this,” says Reigelsperger.
For these financial literacy classes, she often uses Money Habitudes for Teens cards, saying they’re a “perfect fit.” The cards engage the students and make what follows more relevant and personal. Getting through to this demographic is important, but not easy. “Teenagers think they know it all and it’s not really a priority for them. They’d rather be on their iPods or cell phones than listening to this lady talking about money!” she says.
“That is my opening thing: to do the Teen Habitudes, kind of hooking them because [the cards convey] ‘This isn’t going to be so horribly boring! We’re going to do something fun and we’re going to figure ourselves out.’”
“She teaches stand-alone classes on specific financial topics – using credit, making a budget, tracking expenses – as well as multi-class series. One particular high school business teacher has Reigelsperger return every year to do the cards with her juniors and seniors to get them acclimated to finances. “She loves them,” says Reigelsperger. At another high school where she teaches a six-week course on various facets of money management, she devotes her entire first class to Money Habitudes.

Financial literacy classes for adults

The standard adult financial education class that Reigelsperger offers is called Making Ends Meet, which she’s taught hundreds of times. It covers basic budgeting, building a spending plan, cash tracking and goal setting. She begins the class with 20-30 minutes using Money Habitudes. The cards jumpstart the financial education class because they’re hands-on, they build awareness and they reaffirm for people what they know to be true about their money habits and attitudes, which builds credibility for the rest of the session.
“It takes a little bit of time to do that so it really does bite into my two hours of trying to teach them a lot of core topics, but I think it’s important enough that people take a look at themselves and see what their spending habits are,” says Reigelsperger.
She had always tried to get her students to open up and feel comfortable talking before diving into the class. She’d ask questions like: Why do couples argue about finances? Why does someone stay in a terrible job or relationship? However, the resultant discussion was disappointing.
“This was a piece of the puzzle, of the curriculum, that I feel was ignored,” she says. “Money is a really deep issue. It’s a scary topic for people. It’s a stressful topic. It’s a very private topic. And people don’t like to share that they’re struggling or having problems. So it’s like, ‘Let’s break the ice here and let’s see where we’re going with this.’ It’s like getting people on the bandwagon. I have just found Money Habitudes to be a really great piece.”

Tailoring financial literacy classes for the audience

The cards improve the student experience, but they also help the instructor.
“It’s an eye-opening thing for me so I can kind of see where people are coming from,” says Reigelsperger.
To this end, she recalls tweaking her message for a monthly welfare-to-work job readiness class she teaches. When one of the students sorted the Money Habitudes cards, he found that he agreed with nearly every one of the nine statements for one of the Habitudes categories.
“This guy calls to me and he says, ‘Hey, come here and look at my cards! Look at this: I’ve got eight Status cards!’ He was so proud that he had eight Status cards. He thought that was great. And, as I looked at him, he was a walking billboard for every brand name going,” says Reigelsperger who remembers him sporting a Ralph Lauren shirt, Calvin Klein jeans, Nike Air sneakers and a cap with a sports team’s logo. “It was no surprise to me that he had eight Status cards.”
As the motto for the Status Habitude says, he saw money as a way to present a positive image. And while having some cards in any Habitude category is not, in itself, a red flag, Reigelsperger knew that having ,so many in one category was a good starting point for a discussion about priorities and balance. Of course, to change one’s habits, it’s beneficial to not only understand what one is doing that’s helping or hurting and why those habits exist, but to also buy in to that assessment.
People find it less threatening to sort through nonjudgmental statement cards rather than simply make a budget or fill out a test-like worksheet. And it’s not uncommon for people to do a budget in good faith but not properly estimate how much they spend on clothing, food, entertainment, gifts, or the plethora of smaller purchases that add up. Because the student felt comfortable revealing his spending habits, Reigelsperger was able to better adapt her message to her audience.
“I didn’t change my core information, but it kind of changed my examples and understanding,”she says.

Structuring financial literacy classes

Reigelsperger’s financial literacy classes usually have six to twelve people, but may be as large as 30. She finds little difference in using the cards with bigger groups except that some people may read through the 54 statement cards slightly faster than others. To keep the class together, she may walk around, discuss some of the cards with those who finish quickly or give them instructions to take the next step. She may also have them look through one of the handouts and record how many cards of each Habitude they had.
When working with the cards, Reigelsperger uses a few of the handouts from the Professional’s Guide so attendees have something to take home with them. She also uses the short biographical vignettes in the guide. These illustrate how different Habitude combinations affect the way people spend and save and where financial agreements and disagreements may arise between people.
“If you were doing nothing but the Habitudes cards and the whole exercise was on that, you could really go deep with it,” says Reigelsperger, who often gets requests from people who want to take the cards home so they can do them in greater depth with someone else. At the very least, she believes that doing the cards – if only for 20 minutes – prompts people to think more about how they relate to money, gives them personal motivation and opens the door to more constructive discussions about finances. In addition to Money Habitudes, Reigelsperger also employs Advantage Publishing’s calculators – typically the Paycheck Power Booster and the Credit Card Smarts products – because both tools are “eye-opening.”
“It’s such dry material, but the cards get people to say, ‘Oh, maybe this can be fun!’ I need to hook them,” says Reigelsperger. “A lot of the times, the feedback that I get from the evaluations will say, ‘Liked the Habitudes cards!’ or ‘Liked the card game!’ It’s definitely a good exercise.”

Preparing the Navy's Peer Financial Counselors

Contact: Carol Allison, Financial Program Manager, Naval Support Facility (NSF) Dahlgren/The Navy’s Command Financial Specialist (CFS) program
Situation: Use Money Habitudes cards in preparing Navy Command Financial Specialist Counselors to be financial first responders to their colleagues
Who: Command Financial Specialists are specially trained service members who act as financial peer counselors to complement the more formalized financial counseling and advice provided through Fleet and Family Support Centers. The Navy sees them as the first stop for the Military member who has questions or issues about financial readiness. CFSs are generally slightly higher in rank than their peers (E6 or enlisted), and have demonstrated financial stability, are able to speak publicly or facilitate forums and have additional training.

  • Allison knows that her counselor corps must get past what may be judgmental or inaccurate notions about how others view and use money. She says the Money Habitudes exercise opens them up to the fact that, “Just because you feel this way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all your [peer] clients will feel the same way because of their background, their heritage or the baggage that people carry with them.”
  • The cards provide an activity that makes it easy for the counselors to comfortably engage their peers on the difficult topic of money.

How: Allison integrates the Money Habitudes Solitaire game during their FCS training to help them see, understand and talk about their own habits and attitudes related to money and how these “habitudes” affect their financial situation. Then she trains them to use the cards in one-on-one peer counseling and makes the cards available for specialists to use in their counseling sessions with their peers.

  • Helps to produce non-judgmental, open-minded counselors.
  • Allows for more open communication.
  • Helps CFSs see various sides of people’s habits and attitudes related to money.
  • Some trainees come away with new insights about themselves and their fellow counselors.
  • Some trainees brought the decks home to do with their own families.

Observations and Comments:
It’s interesting to see the communication open up…It’s not uncommon for a sailor to see his rigorously controlled spending as a strength and call it “thrifty” while those around him may see those same traits as a negative and brand him as a”tightwad.”
They’re pretty unique cards. I really don’t know that I’d be using anything else (in their absence) because I really haven’t seen anything else that does the same thing.

Money Habitudes Helps Save Marriages from Divorce

Contact: Kent Thompson, Financial Program Manager with Army Community Service, Camp Ederle, U.S. Army Garrison, Vicenza, Italy
Situation: A comprehensive, six-hour course for couples intending to divorce called Military + Divorce created by the Association of Financial Counseling, Planning and Education (AFCPE). Classes ranged from one to five couples and are intended to provide the information so couples can settle their finances as part of the impending divorce. The course is not intended to help couples work out their differences and back away from divorce.
Who: Divorcing couples in the U.S. Army, many who did not want to be at this class.

  • To create a non-threatening and non-judgmental judgmental environment where couples would let down their guard, open up and talk more freely since money and divorce are two notoriously uncomfortable topics to discuss in private, let alone in a class situation.
  • Although the Military + Divorce course was supposed to just tackle the facts, Thompson noticed that when the facts were raised, they sparked the same disagreements, anger and anxiety that led the couples to seek a divorce in the first place making a difficult situation more difficult.


  • To supplement the standard AFCPE curriculum instead of starting by talking about budgeting, the Money Habitudes Solitaire game was used as an initial class activity with the couples. Each couple individually did the solitaire game and then talked about it as a couple.
  • After using the cards couples discovered weak spots between them and Thompson then used those cues to lay out the list of other classes offered.


  • The cards did indeed help break down the barriers of resentment and misunderstanding, helping the divorcing couples see their partner’s perspective.
  • The cards helped to open each other’s eyes.
  • Once Thompson found that couples could work with each other on the money topic, he could then offer them suggestions to strengthen their finances-and, in turn, their marriage. “At the sessions where we did Money Habitudes cards, it opened the door to those other classes.”
  • With the cards and the larger class, couples discovered individual challenges with money as well as weak spots between them.

Unexpected Outcome

  • Reaching a common understanding of their money problems provided the couples with a foundation to look at their larger relationship.
  • In the end, having better understood each other and their disagreements, most of the divorcing couples decided to turn away from divorce and make the marriage work.

Observations and Comments:
I used the cards for every one of those Money + Divorce sessions I had and, of all the classes I taught, I only had two couples say that they were still going to get a divorce anyway. All the other couples decided they didn’t need to get a divorce.
From a financial counselor aspect, the first issue that always comes up, is, ‘Well, my partner doesn’t know how to handle money anyway!’ And so I thought, ‘If every partner is saying that about their partner, then let’s find out who really does control the money and how well do they do it and what are their attitudes about money?’ And so the cards fit in perfectly with that scheme.
The cool thing about the cards is: Here are things that might be challenges for you and here’s how you can overcome them. And those couples looked at that and actually started working at it, saying, ‘The cards are right—(even) if perhaps my spouse is not—and I can probably work on that.’
The money issue was the biggest issue and it was the biggest reason for the divorce for all of those other couples and they decided, ‘You know what? This is overcome-able stuff. We don’t have to get a divorce because we’re not comfortable with the money situation.
The cards were a nice augmentation to the [AFCPE] class. A lot of times, it really did open their eyes. When you’ve got a husband and wife sitting there and neither one of them can understand why the other one has the money attitude that they have, or why they do what they do with their money, to them, they think it’s just a point of anger or a point of contention.
If you could do this with couples, particularly if they’re having money issues before they deploy, and just say, ‘Let’s just see what each of your attitudes is,’ then, before they deploy, we can address these things.

Financial Education to Make the Military "Mission Ready"

Contact: Madeleine Greene, Personal Financial Counselor, Contractor for the Department of Defense. Greene worked as a financial counselor and educator for Cooperative Extension Service through the University of Maryland for more than 15 years.
Situation: Financial education workshops on military bases in the greater Washington, DC area and at military installations across the country. The goal of the financial management workshops is to create a corps of financially stable service members.
Who: Service members and spouses between the ages of 19 and 30 years old in the military’s different branches: Army Community service, Fleet and Family Support, and Airman and Family Readiness. Typically they either are required to attend by a commanding officer due to financial difficulties or they are motivated to be better educated about money and are being proactive.

  • To engage her audience and create an open, trusting atmosphere. Greene wants people in her classes to feel that they can share their experiences without embarrassment or shame and ask questions freely.


  • This comprehensive class usually has two dozen students and covers why it is important to focus on and understand money, basic budgeting, military benefits, savings and the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), credit use and evaluation, getting out of debt, major purchases, insurance, record-keeping and retirement.
  • The Money Habitude cards are usually the first exercise and each person does the Money Habitudes Solitaire game. It serves as an introduction to what will follow and captures the audience-even those who are not there of their own choosing-by getting them involved and interested in the subject.
  • I like to say to them, ‘OK, you’re here. They [the military] have said, ‘Use these eight hours to talk about money.’ I don’t know you. You don’t know me, but I want you to know that I’m here to be of service to you and I think these cards will help you understand and process a lot of the information that I have to share with you today. How you’re going to listen, how you’re going to hear, how you’re going to process is subliminally influenced by what has happened to you.
  • After the class sorts their Money Habitudes cards, she takes a tally where people share their different dominant Habitudes. This low-risk exercise to share something personal and financial underscores that people are different and that they come from different places when it comes to money.


  • The cards get their attention and are a fabulous way to have individuals work it out for themselves. They figure out the real reason they are using money the way they do.
  • People learn best when they are involved in their learning. Through the cards they are involved, they reflect and are more likely to apply what they’ve learned.
  • The cards help them to understand and process a lot of the information that is shared within the context of this class.

Observations and Comments:
Too often I think that people jump right in with the body of material they want to present, but [first] you need some method to get people to be with you because then they’re going to hear you better and they’re going to engage with the material.
Part of the reason that the cards work is because participants find value in the insights they provide—and that they accurately capture people’s strengths and challenges around dealing with money.
The thing that I love about using the cards is a comment I have heard over and over and over again: ‘Oh, did they get me right!’ or ‘I can’t believe how accurate this is!’
Money Habitudes cards are a versatile tool. I always take them with me because, invariably, I can make them work in the situation I find myself in.
Beyond the hands-on engagement the cards offer they help people put the other topics in context. Understanding one’s Habitudes then frames other aspects of financial well-being regarding spending or saving smarter, investing, going into debt, giving to charity and the like. This is especially important with an audience that often lacks financial life experience and good financial role models.

Teaching Couples Skills to Communicate About Finances

Financial education classes often neglect communication skills and focus solely on the mechanics of budgeting, expense tracking, etc. But Lori Scharmer, a family economics educator, finds great value in helping couples communicate about money. If they aren’t comfortable talking about their finances, managing them will difficult. In her standard couples’ finance class, she uses Money Habitudes™ cards. When a couple wants to improve the way they are managing their finances, they need to be comfortable talking about money. That may sound obvious, but communicating about money is a common problem for many couples. Unfortunately, financial classes for couples often ignore communication and dive right into budgeting, cash management and the like, especially when there is a limited timeframe. However, Lori Scharmer, an Extension educator in family economics, recognizes the value of devoting class time to interpersonal communication as part of the money management process.
Scharmer, who works with the North Dakota State University Extension Service, created and teaches a class called Marriage and Money. She developed it to help premarital couples identify and deal with potential financial issues , but the program has been expanded to include married spouses, committed relationships and even the occasional individual.
“Originally, we designed it for couples that were engaged but we found that it’s just as effective for people who’ve been married for years! So we open it to everybody,” says Scharmer who notes that for people who share finances, being able to manage their money wisely together is a timeless skill. “We’ve had some couples married 10 or 15 years and they still love the program.”
A Focus on Money Communication
Scharmer tries to limit her classes to six couples for a more personalized experience and often does the community classes at nearby Minot Air Force Base or area churches. The workshop revolves around a simple premise: make personal finance and money management approachable and understandable and give couples the tools and techniques to talk about it so they can set and achieve financial goals.
“We know that in many marital conflicts, money is almost always part of the issue. So in the class, we don’t necessarily do a lot of nuts and bolts money management. We do more about getting to know the other person, why do they manage money that way, why do they think about money that way, how do we communicate about money,” says Scharmer.
As a result, the money-and-relationship skills class is heavy on communication. When teaching about money preferences, philosophies, personal differences and attitudes, she uses Money Habitudes cards.
“Part of the reason I do it is it’s fun and it’s a hook that gets them interested and gets them thinking about themselves and money. You just can’t preach at them about money management; it doesn’t work! It’s not the most exciting topic so you have to have some buy-in and I think this helps,” she says.
Fun but practical, the class is aimed at getting people interested in managing their finances and to make other money management techniques more acceptable later on. These may be other Extension courses, classes taught by other providers (including the Air Force’s Airman and Family Readiness program), web sites, or drawing on other community resources including couples counselors or personal financial educators. Scharmer also distributes a newsletter called Marriage and Money, developed by NDSU Extension Service, which predates her creation of the class. The class complements the newsletter, which she mails to couples monthly for a year after they attend.
“Our ultimate goal is getting them to have that open dialogue within the marriage about money,” she says.
Using Money Habitudes
The class is structured in a logical progression that creates shared understanding and buy-in and then transitions to goal setting and a presentation of the techniques that can help people achieve those goals. Thus, to establish the strong sense of understanding and engagement, she begins her classes with a half-hour module using Money Habitudes cards. Everyone in the class gets their own deck of cards and sorts them to determine their Habitude type. However, the money cards were not part of the original curriculum.
“Before I used the cards, we talked about the idea that ´You’re each going to have different views about money.´ But talking about it and actually doing an activity are so different! I think the cards make it easier for them to talk about it. It’s like, ´The cards say this, even though it’s reflecting what they find about themselves. And it seems that with the cards, they aren’t as defensive. It facilitates the conversation,” says Scharmer.
When she heard about the cards through AFCPE (the Association of Financial Counseling and Planning Education), she realized they’d be “a perfect fit” because of their non-threatening, interactive format.
“We really do try to make it hands-on. We don’t just want to talk at them so we’re always looking for activities and this works really well,” she says.
In a half-hour, Scharmer finds she has enough time for each person to do his or her own card sort, determine their dominant Habitude type and discuss it briefly with a partner. At the end, she still has time for a quick, capstone discussion involving the whole group.
“We have to move things through pretty quickly. It’s only three-hours,” she says. “Obviously we’re not using the cards to their full extent.”
Even though it doesn’t involve concrete financial management skills, Scharmer believes the half-hour using Money Habitudes is time well spent. It not only makes the rest of the class easier and more effective, it gives couples practical knowledge, insights and techniques to use later at home. In fact, Scharmer notes that participants do seem to make behavioral changes based on the combination of class format, instruction, tools and goals.
“I think what people get out of the cards is that ´A-ha! ´ understanding: ´A-ha, that’s why my husband reacts that way! ´ And so when you understand that, it’s easier to communicate because you think, ´Oh, well, he’s that way, because—. ´ So I think it makes communication easier and they’re maybe making better choices in how they communicate.”
Class Outcomes
Armed with a newfound understanding and comfort, as well as a personal investment, in managing money, Scharmer moves to financial goal setting, utilizing the popular SMART (Specific-Measurable-Attainable-Relevant-Time-bound) methodology. During the stand-alone course, she uses financial materials she created as well as those provided by Extension Service; Money Habitudes is the only outside tool she employs.
Although what each person – and what each couple – discovers in the class will vary, there are some consistencies. One is the lack of balance between couples when it comes to handling finances.
“Typically we find that one person in the couple manages the money. And so we really encourage that other partner to stay involved, even if they’re not writing the monthly checks. We stress that there must be full disclosure about money for both partners at all times – and they both have a responsibility in that: one to share and the other to show interest and stay involved,” says Scharmer. When working with a military audience, this issue is particularly relevant because deployments often put someone in charge of the finances when he or she is not accustomed to this role.
For the couples who attend, Scharmer says that one of the most important breakthroughs is the realization that different couples manage money in different ways. Whether it is combining all of their accounts, commingling some money and having some personal funds, or not mixing any money, couples realize that different styles and preferences work for different couples and that variations are acceptable. It’s accepting and understanding differences that makes for effective money management in marriages.
“They both need to understand that they may be coming from different financial backgrounds. They’re going to have different views of money. So that’s where the cards really do help,” says Scharmer.

Money Habitudes Breaks the Ice, Beats Pizza and Boosts Attendance

Contact: Kent Thompson, Army Financial Program Manager, Army Community Service (ACS), Camp Ederle in Vicenza, Italy
Situation: Financial education classes without funding to attract soldiers to a class by offering pizza or other food.
Who: Soldiers who are generally unwilling and uninterested but are told that they have attend a financial education class and soldiers who may need the financial information and skills but are not motivated to attend these classes.

  • I needed a draw: If I can’t provide food, I can at least say that we’re going to have some games of some sort.
  • Getting soldiers to attend a financial class has some additional challenges: generally they don’t want to be there and it’s hard to compete with programs that depend on that old, reliable attendance booster: food. Unfortunately, because Army Community Service (ACS) runs on specially allocated funds, Thompson was prohibited from dipping into his already limited budget to buy food to increase attendance.


  • He advertised financial classes with card games, using Money Habitudes along with some other games that he and his colleagues created to complement it.
  • The first time he planned to use the cards, when a few soldiers arrived early, he gave them the cards to kill time. Hey, you got some cards there, why don’t you read the instructions and mess around with them for a little bit while we’re waiting for everyone else to show up. So I didn’t even give them any instructions. I didn’t tell them anything. So they started messing around with them and they started laughing with each other about, ‘No, that’s not you,’ ‘Yeah, that’s you!’ Some of them were friends and they knew each other’s attitudes about money a little bit and they kind of treated it like a game, at first.
  • It worked so well, in subsequent classes he allots the first 15 minutes at the beginning of each one or two hour class to do the Money Habitudes Solitaire Game. Using the cards for these few minutes allows Thompson to develop an effective “to be continued” approach where the students will come back for the next class or finish the card game at the end of the present class.
    • Using the cards at the beginning as the icebreaker for the class before all students arrive allows students to get to know each other and while Thompson doesn’t give any instructions about the cards the students are able to have fun with the cards without any pressure of doing it a “right way.”
    • The last 10 minutes of the class Thompson goes over the cards in a “serious way” asking the students to really pick the attitudes they have, putting the cards in the right pile and seeing what it says. He then has them take the yellow cards and asks the students to see what it says about them.


  • Advertising financial classes with games draws the crowds.
  • The classes are more approachable, non-threatening, relevant and enjoyable
  • Using the cards as an icebreaker helps to open the door to soldiers attending other financial classes they need which fits well with the ACS strategy to tie classes together so that current offerings logically feed into upcoming classes. The conversations provided a way to identify their needs and recommend other classes.
  • The cards are a more budget friendly option than food that would be purchased for every class to ensure attendance.

Observations and Comments:
Kent Thompson’s says his task-driven financial classes are akin to the no-nonsense approach of basic training: get in, get the skills and move on. One of my weak points, honestly, is the icebreaker. I’m more of a nuts and bolts kind of guy: You came here for this kind of class – let me give you the class. A lot of classes are filled with people who are told they have to be there, or they finally recognize, on their own, that they need to be there, but they’re uncomfortable with it, especially when you’re doing a group class. And this is a battle we fight on a daily basis. By using Money Habitudes cards it softens them up. It puts that light-hearted attitude on it.
Most of the people in the class said, “You know, I really didn’t think that would be a challenge for me, but now that I think about it, it is. A lot of them were like, ‘Yeah, I need to work on that.’ So it almost became a self-starting thing, The soldiers keyed in on the challenges of their money personality. “I could identify certain attitudes that people had and then get them into other classes.”
It works. It does kind of run itself.

Using Money Habitudes in Bankruptcy Classes

Contact: Beverly Mercer, court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, Waco, Texas
Situation: The State of Texas mandates that any Texan who files for bankruptcy must attend a bankruptcy class which teaches them how to avoid bankruptcy in the future.  Mercer teaches 3-5 classes per month, each with 15-30 people who have filed for bankruptcy. Mercer also has the goal of making her students financially successful in the future.
Who: The classes where attendance is mandatory include a diverse audience:  young and old; singles and couples; people with kids and those without; varying education and experience managing their finances.  Some ended up in bankruptcy due to job loss, family crises or medical emergencies; other from simple overspending.

  • To engage people.  They are already stressed and expect to be judged and blamed so going right into budgeting is not a good way to start the class.
  • To help people declaring bankruptcy better understand what has gotten them into financial trouble and motivate them to take steps toward responsible money management.
  • While the Money Habitudes Cards are very specific in their statements, those statements are broad enough so as to be applicable to the diverse student population.
  • The Money Habitudes Cards make talking about money not just personal and relevant, but also, as a result, entertaining and effective.
  • The Money Habitudes Cards have the ability to uncover and unlock people’s money challenges-as well as other, interrelated issues.


  • The 2 ½ hour class starts with a 20-minute video about the bankruptcy process.
  • Mercer then uses the next hour to help her students come to understand their philosophy, habits and attitudes related to money. Each attendee uses an adult deck of Money Habitudes and it is the only tool she uses.  Then she talks about how these personality traits and behaviors have shaped their lives and finances.  Along with this understanding is a discussion of setting and achieving financial goals. Each student is given a handout to take home of the table included in the Money Habitudes Professional Guide.
  • The last hour focuses on the practicalities of managing money and budgeting. She developed most of her curriculum in collaboration with a other bankruptcy instructors. Some of the handouts and slides are from the National Association of Bankruptcy Trustees (NABT).


  • It makes the class enjoyable, personal and relevant which engages the students.  They typically come in less than enthused to be there because they were compelled by law to attend these classes, but the cards make it entertaining and effective.
  • The cards help people understand the big financial patterns in their lives by starting with small, nonjudgmental, easy-to-comprehend statements and moving to where they have had problems and how to work on them.
  • Using the cards people can suddenly realize, “This is why I’m in financial trouble all the time.” says Mercer. “It’s more personal when they read the different cards and they’re deciding, ‘that’s me, and that’s me! Or ‘No, that’s not me.”  It’s more meaningful for them than for someone to stand in front of them and try to talk about money.”

Unexpected Outcomes

  • A couple came afterwards and told me they were thinking of divorcing, but now they were going to rethink it.
  • I’ve had people leave notes for me saying how discouraged they were and now they had hope.
  • More applications:  Mercer found them so helpful she has also used them when teaching budgeting and financial stewardship classes at her church and when doing individual bankruptcy counseling and financial education.

Observations and Comments:
On evaluations, students typically report that sorting the Money Habitudes cards was one of the best, most helpful parts of the class.  Part of that response is due to the cards’ ability to uncover and unlock people’s money challenges—as well as other, interrelated issues.
The cards replaced a worksheet where students would answer a generic money-philosophy questions such as “I am a risk-taker.”  These bland statements didn’t engage students and lacked the specificity to help them see how their every day habits and attitudes were symptomatic of their larger money issues.
You’ve got to have a reason that you need to budget.  A lot of people really do not think it’s necessary so you have to work through these other things in order for them to see how it impacts their whole life.  And the Money Habitudes cards are a great way to help bring in a lot of these things and bring up a lot of the issues that people deal with and help them see it in themselves and what the impact is.