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Financial Education and Relationship Classes that are Fun and Engaging

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

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

Why:

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

Couples counseling meets financial counseling

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

Combining financial counseling and couples counseling

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

Dealing with financial issues in marriage counseling: money values

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

Money Habitudes in couples counseling and financial counseling

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

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

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

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
Why:

  • 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.

How:

  • 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.

Outcomes:

  • 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.
Why:

  • 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.
Outcomes:

  • 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.
Why:

  • 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.

How:

  • 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.

Outcomes:

  • 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.
Why:

  • 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.

How:

  • 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.

Outcomes:

  • 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.
Why:

  • 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.

How:

  • 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.

Outcomes:

  • 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.

Spouses Group Meets for Coffee and Money Habitudes

One of the great friction points in marriages is money. Although people do not want to talk about it, they do want to be able to deal with it effectively. To help people introduce the difficult topic, talk about it and better understand one another in a marriage, Erica Brown used Money Habitudes as a light but insightful conversation-starting activity with a monthly meeting of military spouses. The Airman and Family Readiness Center at Shaw Air Force Base runs monthly meetings for active duty, retired and reservist spouses. Referred to as Spouses´ Cafés, the relaxed two-hour gatherings are like a support group. They foster friendships and help attendees navigate military life through a series of informative seminars. Knowing how important money is within marriages, community readiness technician Erica Brown introduced her spouses group to the topic of finances by walking them through Money Habitudes™.
Fun, Casual Conversations
The cards were a good fit for the support group event for two reasons says Brown. First, they are a fun activity which aligns well with the informal nature of the gathering; when friends meet for coffee and camaraderie, they don’t expect to be staring at a PowerPoint presentation. The cards are also hands-on and everyone can participate together. Doing an activity that people are excited about is important to attract and keep spouses in the support group.
“The reaction was very good. One of them was saying, ‘I need to take these home so my husband can do them!’ I think they were really excited,” says Brown.
Second, the cards offer a non-threatening way to get people to talk about and think about a topic that is often not discussed in marriages. “I knew I had to have the cards because I knew I could do so much with them,” says Brown who appreciates that the cards work not just for money and finance classes but also for marriage, relationship and communication sessions as well. And, because of the stress that deployment puts on managing joint finances, dealing with money can be an especially difficult topic for military couples. Many couples don’t talk about money because they fear it will lead to arguments. A 2009 study by PayPal/Ipsos found that money is the top cause of arguments among American couples, followed by household chores, in-laws and sex.
Using Money Habitudes
Brown gave decks of cards to each attendee while they were waiting for food to be served, briefly explaining the instructions and methodology behind the game-like activity. Each person sorted the cards using the typical solitaire activity and then Brown let the discussion flow from the activity to get the spouses to share their results and learn from each other. Because money is so difficult to talk about, it helps to hear that others around you are having the same issues and concerns that you are. This is a key component to a support group. Brown is just careful not to overdo it too soon.
“In order to keep people coming, you don’t want to overwhelm them,” she cautions.
By looking at the sorting results and gauging the conversation, Brown uses topics as they come up as a natural opportunity to explain some of the sticking points or challenges that couples may face related to money. And the message is not just “save at all costs,” but rather that balance is good.
“You can’t have all Security cards because that means that you’re not going to have any fun,” she’ll explain to the group, which may cause some light bulbs to go off in people’s heads when they think about their own money management at home.
Starting a Good Conversation at Home
And while the conversation begins at the café table, it will then continue once each spouse gets home. To make sure it does, Brown gives attendees their own decks of cards to keep so they can do the activity with their spouse.
Brown believes that if she did the activity with the spouses but then sent them home without the cards, the attendees would want to talk about the results and start a conversation about their finances. However, the absent spouse might still be skeptical and want to avoid the subject. “But if you come home and say, ´Honey, I got these cards from the Spouses´ Café today and you wouldn’t believe what they say! Well, I’m going to let you do them and then we can talk about them afterwards,'” it’s a non-threatening way to approach that subject,” says Brown who sees the cards acting as a conversation starter and an ice breaker between the couple.
“You had that A-ha moment. Now take it home and do it with your spouse and see if you can have that A-ha moment together,” she says. “We’re trying to get them talking.”

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.”