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Community College Money Management Classes: Teaching Personal Finance

Who: Leslie Tomlinson with Student Support Services at Northwest-Shoals Community College in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
community colelge financial education classesWhat: As part of the college’s Student Support Services grant through the US Department of Education’s TRIO program, the program must offer a variety of seminars to all recipients. One of these requirements is personal economic literacy.
Who: Located on the outskirts of Appalachia, Northwest-Shoals Community College’s students are a mixture of returning adult students and students of traditional age who aren’t going directly to a four-year institution. Some 70-80% of the community college’s students qualify for federal assistance (i.e., Pell Grants) and many are the first in their families to go to college. As a result, much of the student body is considered “at risk” for not finishing their degree. The mandate of the school’s Student Support Services Program is to assist students with course selection, academic tutoring, academic advising, financial aid and personal economic literacy education to ensure they get through school.

  • Money management classes are generally comprised of one or two dozen students at desks or tables.
  • Total class time is approximately one hour.
  • The money management classes start with an introduction to personal finance and then students identify a spending vice – such as buying a coffee every day – and then multiply the cost per week, month, year to understand the effect of small changes in spending.
  • About 15 minutes into the class, students use the Money Habitudes cards. This serves to invigorate the audience because of the fun, hands-on nature of the exercise. The cards dovetail with the introductory spending exercise by helping students understand their own financial habits and attitudes and letting them talk about money. The class uses the Money Habitudes II cards, commonly used in universities and community colleges.
  • Depending on the degree of conversation, the class usually includes about 30 minutes for the Money Habitudes exercise. An introduction of the cards is followed by the solitaire sorting process then the money personality self-interpretation step. Following the financial conversation starter, there is then 15-30 minutes of group discussion.

Although offering the personal finance class is a grant requirement, the Money Habitudes cards are used for three ends:

  • Make the SSS staff and its offerings approachable and non-threatening. “People don’t want to feel judged. So you want a very non-intimating, easy way to talk about money,” says Tomlinson. It’s important that students feel comfortable in their interactions with the staff because the goal is to continue to help students in a variety of ways. In addition to financial aid and personal economic education, they want students to seek them out for academic support, scheduling, advising and curriculum planning.
  • Make financial education personally relevant and interesting. To this end, a discussion of one’s money personality and habits and attitudes can put spending and savings decisions in context. This might be whether to buy a new or used car – and what one really needs versus what one wants. “We want them to think before they spend their Pell Grant award and take out the maximum allowed on their student loans,” says Tomlinson.
  • Foster a bond between students; an ice breaker and conversation starter that goes beyond finances. “Because we are a commuter college, we want students to connect with each other and sometimes it’s very difficult to do that; they come in, they go to class, they leave. And so we like for them to talk with each other and get to know each other and make a bond.”

Observations and Comments:

  • We loved them! Because it’s engaging. It’s active learning. It’s participatory. It’s not just us talking to them or at them – it actually engages them in the process. And it’s fun.
  • We like to get the students to talk and we’ve found that these cards will promote discussion.
  • It’s really hard to find interactive things that are financial in scope but which aren’t  scary. Other activities make it seem like, “You’re doing everything wrong!” We always try to accentuate the positive with our students, and encourage them to make positive choices when it comes to their education and their money.  Playing solitaire with the Money Habitudes cards allows us to do just that.

Financial Education and Relationship Education in Prisons and Inmate Reentry Programs

Who: Ronald Brewer, Director of Education, People of Principle, based in Midland, TX.
What: Marriages are subject to a variety of stresses. Few are greater than having one spouse incarcerated. It is in this prison environment that People of Principle works to strengthen marriages. Operating under a federal grant for Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood from the Administration for Children and Families, People of Principle provides relationship skills training for inmates through its Fathers Are Forever (FAF) Project. The project covers 13 prisons in Texas and New Mexico, along with 36 town parole boards. FAF teaches parenting skills, promotes two-parent families, and seeks to eliminate family violence.
Who: The ACF grant covers working with married or unmarried incarcerated men who have children. Inmates attend the relationship classes with a wife or partner. Brewer notes that many of the inmates have very limited educations; the program assumes a 4th-grade reading level.

  • Brewer says that the People of Principle reentry program is based on doing “power seminars” where a year of relationship education is typically done in 8-12 hours over two days.
  • The healthy marriage program is built around the Within Our Reach curriculum, designed by PREP, Inc. and based on the Speaker-Listener Technique.
  • Classes are generally taught to groups of 6-12 couples.
  • The relationship classes include anger management, preventing family violence, using  negotiated agreements to govern family life, skills-based parenting, and positive parent practices.
  • Additional marriage and fatherhood modules include one on Transactional Analysis, one using Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages and two that Brewer developed called Words of the Heart and The Institutionalized Mind. The reentry program also includes a Money Habitudes module for personal finance.
  • “We felt like one of the weaknesses of our program was the lack of financial counseling,” says Brewer. Using the hands-on Money Habitudes program as a short lesson helps inmates understand their spending and saving patterns but also helps them better understand and interact with a spouse or partner when it comes to money.
  • Traditionally the number one cause of arguments for couples, money is an especially important topic for prisoner reentry into society. The Money Habitudes-based financial module has proven successful because it is simple, understandable, fun and non-threatening.
  • Although the Money Habitudes cards are written at a basic reading level, facilitators may still read the lifestyle statements to participants with low literacy levels. The brief card format is easier and more engaging to use than a worksheet or book.
  • Recognizing that they have very little time to work with prisoners, People of Principle sees the FAF program as a way to open dialogue and spur participants to seek out more information and understanding on their own for all topics – which they do, says Brewer.

Why and Outcomes:

  • The reentry program’s goal has two interdependent parts: to reduce recidivism rates and to preserve and strengthen inmates’ relationships.
  • Brewer says they look at four elements that will keep a marriage together: education, faith, family, and having a job. FAF addresses these issues but does not do job placement; it does, however, address the economic component of stable marriages by including financial education.
  • Because so much of the FAF program deals with understanding one’s partner, Money Habitudes is a natural fit. Used more in the context of relationships and conflict resolution (versus traditional financial literacy), it helps individuals better understand themselves when it comes to how and why they spend and save – and what their attitudes and values are around money. But it also helps them better understand and respect how their partner sees money, thereby promoting healthier discussions. Brewer recalls that participants would say, “This is exactly the problem we were having. It’s crazy that we have to go to prison to learn how to deal with it!”
  • “What’s great about Money Habitudes is the tactile manipulation. That’s very important with people who are incarcerated. We try to use as little of the lecturer-fill-in-the-blank stuff as we can. We have learned that, especially in the prison population, participatory education is far superior to lecture style.”
  •  “We had nothing but positive results. In fact, we never had a complaint and inmates are notorious for complaining when they don’t like something. Even the guards would eat up the Money Habitudes exercise. They’d ask question after question whenever we had a break so it was clear they were interested even though they weren’t actually participating!” says Brewer.
  • After working with 300 couples, the program had only seen six divorces.

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.”

Money Habitudes Storms the Dorms for Financial Readiness

Contact: Erica Brown, a community readiness technician at Shaw Air Force Base Airman and Family Readiness Center (AFRC)
Situation: A financial education class to reach young airmen on their own turf, in the dorms. The workshops in the barracks would eliminate much of the embarrassment and discomfort that airmen perceived around going to the AFRC. The workshop in the barracks would also reach young airmen who could use some proactive financial guidance, but who had not gotten to the point of financial crisis.
Who: Young airmen at Shaw Air Force Base

  • Outreach was needed that did not have the stigma of “being in trouble” and “being sent to the principal’s office” because of financial mismanagement.
  • It’s a tough sell to convince skeptical airmen that they should sit through a boring PowerPoint slideshow in their free time so a fun, engaging activity was needed.
  • To reach service members while their problems were manageable. Often they don’t show signs of financial distress until their problems have become very serious (like significant credit card debt or missed car payments).
  • To provide a forum to introduce the financial assistance capabilities of the AFRC and identify topics to focus on with the airmen.


  • To promote attendance to these programs held in the dorms:
  • The class was well publicized and first sergeants who are responsible for the junior airmen were enlisted to help spread the word.
  • To get the buy-in of the sergeants, her message was simple: An ounce of prevention today may help your people before things get out of hand later on.
  • Airmen received credits. (At Shaw they accrue credits for attending classes that prepare them to live off-base, a common goal of many. By attending more classes, airmen can move off-base faster.)
    • The one-hour class starts with a five-minute introduction on the role of Airmen and Family Readiness.
    • Money Habitudes is introduced with a brief overview and then the airmen sort the cards on their own (which took another 10-15 minutes).
    • After sorting the cards, she spent another few minutes going over the various Habitude types and how each affected people in the long-run.
    • While she had their attention, Brown made sure to link their learnings in this more casual barracks environment to getting more formal help at the AFRC.


  • Using the Money Habitudes, Brown found that she could make the class, its content and outcomes personal and relevant to each participant by helping them see their own patterns of how, why, where and when they were more likely to spend, save, give away and invest their money.
  • The cards provided a non-threatening and proactive activity. Because the airmen sorted the cards, the individual strengths and challenges for each type resonated with them. They could see exactly where their money was going so Brown never had to take a “bad cop” role.
  • This positive experience provided the opportunity for Brown to link the learnings and needs to getting more formal help at the AFRC and some individuals made appointments on the spot to get help with budgeting and other money issues.

Observations and Comments:
When using Money Habitudes in her dorm class, one airman revealed, after looking at his sorted cards, that he owned 120 pairs of shoes. And, of that collection, he had almost religious devotion to Air Jordans, many of which cost hundreds of dollars. For a young enlisted man with a family, it was an expensive habit. Conversation was started and fellow airmen helped to coach him and support him in changing his behavior. It actually became a peer learning environment.
Brown doubts the airman would have hit upon this specific personal insight – and the larger spending patterns it represented – without Money Habitudes. And, of course, it was only because Brown had gone to the dorm and reached him with a non-threatening and proactive activity that he was able to see and address this issue. Without Brown’s outreach, he might have waited months or years before being required to get financial help or working up the courage to go to the AFRC.
You can’t change anybody’s mindset, but you can give them ideas to change.

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 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.

A Life Skills Class for Teens that Nearly Runs Itself

Teenagers like to interact with each other rather than sit still for lectures. Playing to this tendency, Joyce Bartels-Daal uses Money Habitudes as the basis for a money-based life skills class. Students enthusiastically dive into the activity and need little oversight. They also discover how to be better with money and how to talk about the difficult topic. When Joyce Bartels-Daal, managing director of Aruba Learning, was asked by a school system in Aruba to create a life skills class, she proposed one that would help teens develop a better understanding of themselves around the very important issue of money and finances. The concept was a good fit for the self-improvement program; although parents, teachers and administrators saw the value, the students themselves put money at the top of their list in a questionnaire soliciting their desired seminars. The resultant class revolves around Money Habitudes cards.
Contact: Joyce Bartels-Daal, Managing Director, Aruba Learning
Situation: Joyce Bartels-Daal teaches a money-based life skills class in a local school system in Aruba.
Audience: Teenagers, ages 13-20, that use the class as a complement to other classes the school teaches that cover topics like time management and communications skills
Why use the cards:

  • The cards provide an opportunity for teens to interact with each other rather than sit still for lectures.
  • Students need little oversight with the Money Habitudes card activity.
  • The groups for teens last only an hour.
  • The cards enable the teacher to “hit the ground running” with valued material that is necessary.
  • It engages the teens who typically have a short attention span.
  • Using the Money Habitudes cards give the teenagers the freedom to make conversation a healthy part of learning and self-development plays to their natural tendencies.

How cards are used:

  • Therefore, she does a very minimal introduction to the cards, mainly talking about how and why they were created. And then, with little fanfare, she turns the decks of Money Habitudes for Teens over to the students and lets them start playing with them.
  • She’s used the cards with groups as large as 100 but feels that 50 is a more effective size.
  • As they open the decks and start sorting the cards, they start talking, forming small groups on their own to extract meaning from individual cards and the larger patterns that emerge.
  • Finally, they use the included interpretation cards to better understand their own habits and attitudes related to money.


  • That interaction between the teenagers by using the Money Habitudes cards gets them more involved and makes the session easier and more enjoyable for both the teenagers and the instructors.
  • “The best part is they just like to play with the cards. They look at them, turn them around, talk about them and then relate it to themselves. For that, they don’t need you that much,” she says. “It’s sort of like a group coaching itself.”
  • “The message that is given to students by Bartels-Daal at the beginning of the class: “We’re not going to teach you how to make a budget. We’re going to help you understand yourself better and, by understanding yourself better, you’ll be able to acquire or create those habits you need for success.” She sums up the value proposition as: “Know yourself so you can manage your money better.”
  • They were very quick in getting to the results and also quick to say, ‘This and this and this applies to me and I need to make this change and this change,'” Bartels-Daal says.


  • “I’ve noticed that, especially with the teens, the more you let them do their own thing, it works better. They’re not into lectures; they want to figure it out for themselves,” she says, noting that the students have not had any issues understanding the English cards, even though it’s their second language.
  • “The best part is they just like to play with the cards. They look at them, turn them around, talk about them and then relate it to themselves. For that, they don’t need you that much,” she says. “It’s sort of like a group coaching itself.”

Tackling Financial Literacy for Teens, Homebuyers and Seniors

Instead of sleep-inducing PowerPoint slides and a lecture, Belinda Pfeiffer, a family and consumer sciences educator, uses Money Habitudes for Teens to connect with teenagers in schools and youth groups. When using Money Habitudes with homebuyer/homeowner classes and with senior citizens, the cards help put people at ease, get them to open up, participate and make classes more enjoyable. Working with high school students, low-income senior citizens and homeowners on the verge of foreclosure, Belinda Pfeiffer sees how dire the need is for financial education. Although she addresses different issues for groups with different needs, she has developed a general class template that is effective with a variety of audiences. Usually working with only an hour, Pfeiffer, a family and consumer sciences educator with Oklahoma State University’s Extension Service, divides her class into two equal parts. The first is an introductory section using Money Habitudes to engage students and help them better understand themselves. The second builds on the habits-and-attitudes piece and includes practical financial skills.
Financial Education for Teens
Although learning something about personal finances is better than nothing, Pfeiffer says that what most kids get in high school is too little, too late.
“A lot of times, they don’t get financial ed until they’re seniors. But, by that time, they’re graduating. They should have known this stuff before they were seniors so they could start saving a little bit and thinking about college, but they don’t get it until it’s too late,” she says.
This deficiency is hard to ignore as the symptoms trickle through society. However, Pfeiffer notes that there is a nationwide push to increase the amount of financial education that young people receive; she’s even started doing financial programming for 4-H’s Cloverbuds, kids ages 5-8.
“There is a big need for it because we see a lot of bankruptcy and lots of credit card problems,” she says, noting the burden falls on schools and youth groups because parents are not necessarily comfortable or capable themselves in this arena.
“They don’t have the time to sit down with their kids. And they don’t share the financial situation in their home. It’s like, ‘Let’s not talk about it.’ Parents just deal with it and don’t include the kids.”
Thus, Pfeiffer works with schools and groups like 4-H to increase financial literacy. Through Extension, she promotes curricula from NEFE (National Endowment for Financial Education) and programs like Reality Check where students manage their expenses for a simulated adult life. However, she largely builds financial literacy through her own classes in school classrooms, 4-H youth groups and at 4-H’s regional county leadership conference for students 13-18 (where she offered the event’s first financial education session; it attracted three sessions of 20 students).
Structuring an Effective Class for Teens
Knowing that she has limited time, Pfeiffer concentrates on making students aware of how personal finance affects them and she tries to instill good, life-long habits for handling money. For this standard class structure, Pfeiffer uses Money Habitudes as a 30-minute extended icebreaker.
She begins the class with a brief introduction, then asks students about spending habits and attitudes and their first money memories (which, she notes, frequently return to the Tooth Fairy). She will then have each of the 20-30 students sort his or her own deck of Money Habitudes for Teens, followed by a discussion of what the results mean and how they influence spending and saving. With this interactive introduction, she avoids being just another presenter with sleep-inducing slides.
“It’s not a PowerPoint! I think PowerPoint is wonderful, but sometimes I think it’s overused and I feel like people get more out of doing than just sitting there listening and reading or having someone read to you, which is one of my pet peeves about workshops. With the cards, they’re actually doing something so it gets them involved and then they share with each other. I just think it’s a better learning setting than to do a PowerPoint or lecture the whole time. It gets them involved and ready to listen,” she says.
Typically, students see a pattern in the Money Habitudes statement cards with which they identify. Pfeiffer could use this initial half-hour to cover another money management topic, but she says that starting with personal attitudes and behavior is like an investment so the rest of her lesson sinks in more.
“Before they can actually sit down and say, ‘I’m going to change my spending habits and I’m going to look at what I’m spending and how much money I have coming in,’ they need to know, really, what they´re doing. And people don’t think about that. But as they use the cards, they read those statements and they have to put them down and think, ´Yeah, that’s me.´ And people say, ´My gosh, that is me – I can’t believe that! I really do do that! You hear these comments the whole time they’re reading these cards! It’s an eye-opener,” she says.
With a little bit of coaching from the instructor, students connect how their Habitude type plays into why they’re making a budget, tracking their expenses or setting personal money goals. Interestingly, she sees how – at least anecdotally – students who have had real-life money management experiences by undertaking 4-H agricultural projects seem to have a better sense of financial skills and priorities versus other youth and adult groups. Following Money Habitudes, she may use tools like Iowa State University’s Allowance Game, which teaches students to prioritize spending among various categories. At the end of the class, she encourages students to share what they learned, hoping that they: recognize needs versus wants; understand what a budget is and why it’s important; and are motivated to spend and save better.
Educating Adults
When Pfeiffer had to do a last-minute presentation for foster grandparents – who earn a small stipend to work as classroom mentors and aides – she decided to try using a variant of her typical class structure (but replaced the Teen cards with the adult version). She feared that the format wouldn’t translate well for older adults and was also concerned that they wouldn’t be interested in sitting through financial classes. After all, even though foster grandparents tend to be a low-income group, they’d been paying bills for decades. They didn’t want to be lectured about managing their money.
“I did it at a meeting where all four counties [in her district] came together and I thought, ´Oh, they’re really going to hate this, but I’m going to do it anyway.´ But as a result of that, I’ve got foster grandparent organizations calling me and asking me to come and present it when they come in for their district meetings. They like it because they’re doing something,” she says.
In this case, the cards have been a foot-in-the-door and have helped Pfeiffer promote her classes by word of mouth.
“I do the whole financial part, but they want me to make sure that I do the cards while I’m there because they like those, they like what it says, they like the results,” she says.
Creating Cohesion
Regardless of the audience to which Pfeiffer is speaking, she knows it’s usually a group that is not enthusiastic about the topic. That makes for a challenging and potentially unpleasant environment in which to learn – and to teach.
“There are not many people who really want to hear about financial education,” she says.
Seeing that the Money Habitudes activity made for a better learning and teaching environment in her other classes, Pfeiffer added the cards to her homebuyers and homeowners workshops; the cards augment the curriculum outlined by the Homebuyer Educators Association. Here the cards help couples feel more comfortable with each other and better understand how they handle money. When fearing foreclosure and feeling caught in a contentious situation, such breakthroughs are a positive, hopeful step.
“I’ve used the cards [with them] and they’re always amazed to see how their spouse thinks about money. I just think they’re a good tool,” she says.
However, beyond simply getting people in her pre-foreclosure classes to feel more comfortable with their partners, the Money Habitudes cards also build broader goodwill among the entire class. They help put people on equal footing, make the material feel more approachable and foster a more upbeat, supportive and cohesive group says Pfeiffer.
“They have to come to the meeting; they’re required. And they’re resentful and embarrassed. But that’s what’s nice about using the cards: it gets them busy, it gets them involved in it and then they start sharing,” she says of the common bonds that Money Habitudes establishes, turning aloof strangers into sympathetic supporters. “They look at it and they see themselves and they hear others making the same comments. It gets them to talk.”

Talking About Money Builds Healthy Relationships

In working to build and sustain healthy relationships, Stronger Families knows that money plays a crucial role. Therefore, the organization includes a module on money and communication – using Money Habitudes cards – in its hallmark relationship program, which largely serves the military and marriage mentors in churches. Stronger Families is a non-profit that provides education, resources, advocacy and training that supports marriages and families in its home state of Washington as well as in Oregon and Idaho. The organization (formerly known as Families Northwest) also works in a pre-marital context – including people who are single, dating and engaged – as well as with married couples who are parents.
Recognizing that a key determinant of healthy marriages is the way money is managed, Stronger Families includes a financial module in its standard marriage seminars.
The organization’s hallmark program is used with the military as well as with marriage mentors in churches. As such, it spans service members and their spouses in their twenties to older couples who have been married for years and who will, in turn, work with other couples.
Called Oxygen For Your Relationships, it is a four-hour seminar meant to give couples an action plan for their relationship, to design a support system to build on their successes, and to learn to help others with their relationships. The seminar integrates three different but complementary tools. The first is the Couple Checkup from Life Innovations (formerly PREPARE/ENRICH), which highlights strengths, as well as areas for growth in a relationship. The second is Jim Fay and Foster W. Cline’s Love & Logic, which is employed to hone parenting skills. And the third tool is Money Habitudes, which is used to provide financial insights for couples as well as open meaningful discussions about how people relate to money and each other. Money Habitudes also sets the stage for budgeting and money management.
Noel Meador, director of communications, says that money plays an important role in sustaining a healthy marriage. “We know that divorce is, often times, precipitated by money fights,” he says.
It was Meador who brought Money Habitudes to the attention of Stronger Families after using it successfully in a prior position with Northwest Family Services, a non-profit Healthy Marriage Initiative (HMI) grantee in Portland, Oregon. There, the organization was looking for a tool that would help people address their finances. They considered many financial-relationship products, but found that most began with dry, un-engaging exercises like tallying income and expenses to create a budget. Instead, they wanted something that would engage participants, get them to open up and enjoy the process.
“All of them [the financial tools the team considered] were really involved, very detailed; you’re focusing on the budget and all these dependencies and unless you’re a complete Excel junkie, you’re going to go, ‘No thanks,'” says Meador.
To start a discussion about finances and engage participants, the organization found what it was looking for in Money Habitudes because of the cards’ non-threatening approach, coupled with the personal and interpersonal insights that came from using the cards. Rather than jumping right into hard-and-fast numbers, Money Habitudes gave people a way to understand their relationship with money in a different, more holistic light.
“If you don’t understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’re just going to keep replicating your mistakes. You can have the greatest, most sophisticated budget plan available, but it won’t address what Money Habitudes does – and that is: What’s the psychology behind why you’re wanting to spend or wanting to save?” says Meador.
In conjunction with Money Habitudes, the organization used content adapted from Dave Ramsey’s financial education courses. This second, complementary component built on the conversations started by Money Habitudes and focused on more concrete financial steps, especially budgeting.
As a lead-in to more structured money decisions, Money Habitudes earned top marks from participants, whose feedback was sought rigorously to comply with a tracking mandate from the HMI grant.
“They said Money Habitudes was really the thing that cracked the nut for them. When they could finally understand why their husband or wife did what they did, then they could come to the table and talk about the budget; before that it, they’d just get in a fight about the budget … That was a really huge breakthrough,”says Meador.
Stronger Families is now relying upon this strength in the half-day curriculum it uses with marriage mentors in area churches. The program keys on relationship health, financial health and parenting health. Although it is not technically a train-the-trainer offering, mentors are trained by Stronger Families on a number of tools and techniques so they can, in turn, teach and instruct other couples who want to improve or save their marriage. Of course, it’s not easy to talk about serious relationship issues, even with a trusted friend and mentor, and that is doubly true if there are big issues to work through.
And even if money isn’t at the heart of a difficult marriage, peer marriage counselors still find that using Money Habitudes is an effective way to start a constructive dialogue between a couple and that conversation may then open up other doors. As such, Money Habitudes sets the stage for other relationship issues; after all, if a couple can have a good talk about the usually charged topic of money, it establishes a pattern of respectful dialogue where partners come to appreciate each other’s motivations and attitudes.
“Money Habitudes is great because they [mentors] can talk to their friends and say, ‘Hey, you should do this card game! It’s like Solitaire,'” says Meador who notes that couples found it easier to sit down and, ostensibly, just play a game. “It was a door-opener for a lot of them, especially for people who were like, ‘I don’t really want to meet about my marriage, but we’ll meet about our finances.'”
When Stronger Families works with the military—mostly based at nearby Fort Lewis—it is directly with groups of soldiers. Here, they are confronted by a situation that is considerably different from that found with their marriage mentor initiative. The military population faces some obvious and significant challenges, not least of which is deployment.
“Money is a huge qualifier for how they weather the storm during the deployment process,” says Meador.
Yet, even outside the times when one person may be sent to the other side of the world and his or her spouse must manage the home and finances, military marriages face other challenges. First, many couples are young, newly married and just getting acclimated to the unique stresses of military life. Secondly, many have also just begun to earn a significant paycheck. And, third, many service members and their spouses have not had much financial education.
“Yes, we want them to be able to manage their budget and be able to understand, financially, where they’re at and be good stewards of their money. But our ultimate goal is they’ll be able to see how their finances are affecting how they’re treating their spouse, or maybe why they’re not communicating well or why there’s conflict. And that’s the value of Money Habitudes.”