The Issue: How to lay a foundation for financial skills by getting students to understand the role of habits, attitudes, emotions and behaviors in their own personal finances.
Who: Saundra Davis is the executive director and founder of Sage Financial Solutions, an organization dedicated to helping communities develop financial education classes and programs. She is a nationally recognized expert in the financial coaching field and is a co-founder of Earned Asset Resource Network’s (EARN) work in financial coaching and planning.
What: Community financial education classes and train-the-trainer programs for financial educators.
- For years, Davis has covered financial habits and attitudes in her classes. “I was already doing a lot of work about emotions and behaviors and the cards just made it easier,” she says. She usually starts her financial education classes with the Money Habitudes exercise.
- To do a complete class based on Money Habitudes and doing the card sort, interpretation, and discussion, Davis allows an hour.
- After covering the emotions and behaviors component with Money Habitudes, Davis moves on to the “nuts and bolts” – concrete financial skill building topics. “I make sure that before they leave, they have both the ‘why they do what they do’ and then ‘how to do what they say they want to do,'” she says.
- As a framework for using the cards in financial education classes, Davis recommends thinking through these questions:
- What is your reason for using the cards? What impact do you want the cards to have on participants?
- How will you use the cards: individual, small groups?
- How will you capture the “take-away” insights from the the Money Habitudes cards?
- What is your “call to action” after doing the activity?
- Her classes and trainings also use her own materials, those from Ted Klontz and Swanson Group’s value cards.
- As part of the financial habits and behaviors class, Davis may break the class into small groups and have them discuss their earliest money messages. She may also give them a circumstance like getting a $5000 tax return and ask them to talk about it.
- Davis teaches teens and adults and works with end-user clients as well as other financial coaches and educators. The train-the-trainer classes vary little with the different audiences because Davis insists that financial educators do the same exercises they’d ask their own clients and students to do. (Among other groups, Davis is a trainer with NeighborWorks.) Rather than train financial educators on theory, she walks them through the activities, including Money Habitudes. “If anything I’m trying to take their expertise down a notch,” says Davis about the challenge of having very knowledgeable educators who may have a hard time making lessons relevant and understandable.
- In fact, even those with a lot of financial expertise who self-identify as being “good with money” often come away with new insights. “What happens when you use the cards is that people who think they have their act together are also coming face to face with the parts of their own financial lives that they don’t like. So this gives them an opportunity to face their own financial fears,” says Davis. When she was working with a CPA, she recalls, “He said, ‘Wow, I really understand now why my wife gets really unhappy with me!’ He’s so focused on Planning and Security that he doesn’t have enough fun. And, in his mind, taking care of her is getting the money in order. In her mind, taking care of her is spending time with her. It’s really a unique opportunity for people in relationships to see where they differ around money.”
- The cards tend to be a good assessment of how people see money. “Every once in a while I get someone who does the cards and says, ‘This doesn’t resonate with me.’ I’ve done the cards with more than 1000 people, maybe 2000 or 3000, and I’ve had maybe one person who didn’t agree with the card sort results,” she says.
- Part of Davis’s success comes from her belief in creating a safe space to discuss the difficult topic of money. To do this, she insists that everyone in the financial education classes participate; there are no passive observers. She also shares examples from her own life. And when teaching a class with different age groups, she makes sure people have an age-appropriate version of Money Habitudes.
- Because people get excited to start playing with the hands-on cards, Davis is careful to give very specific instructions about how to use them.
- Davis prefers to give a new deck to all participants and to let them take the deck home. Her hope is that they will do the fun exercise with a spouse, friend or relative. “I tell them not to go and say to someone, ‘Hey, you need to do this!’ I’ll coach them about the process and give them some conversation starters for when they go home and encourage them to do it with their friends. People complain about money all the time, so why not start having productive conversations about money?”
- Once the class has moved on to other topics, Davis refers back to the financial habits and attitudes that students discovered in the Money Habitudes module.
- “People know that what they’re doing isn’t working. They just don’t know what else to do. People know they need to include habits, behaviors and emotions, but they don’t know how,” says Davis.
- “Everything comes back to the budget. It doesn’t matter where you start, you’ll still cover that. You will absolutely do a budget when you’re helping people – I just don’t lead with it. When I say, ‘Let’s do a budget,” who on earth is excited by that? The Money Habitudes cards give me an introduction into a financial conversation that’s non-threatening and even kind of fun – there’s always laughter – it’s just really valuable.”
- “Once people use the Money Habitudes cards, they get it. But, I do think it’s hard for people to get it before they use it. It’s like coaching. Talking about coaching is not the same as actually getting coached by a great coach.”