Foundations for Strong Families 101. Financial Education


Financial education programs seek to equip individuals with the information, knowledge, and skills to manage their household finances and navigate the financial services marketplace. Financial literacy skills taught in these programs include money management, goal setting, budgeting, and retirement planning. Investment and savings, bank products and services, home ownership, and personal credit are common financial education topics.

As discussed in the introduction, many federal agencies have programs or initiatives related to financial education. To coordinate these efforts, the Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC) was formed in 2003. Led by the Office of Financial Education at the U.S. Department of Treasury, the FLEC is composed of 20 federal agencies, including HHS. A key venture of the FLEC has been the creation of the website, which provides free financial information and resources for individuals and families. One of the resources available is the FDIC’s Money Smart curriculum (mentioned in the introduction), which is used to help adults outside the financial mainstream enhance their financial literacy skills and create positive banking relationships. Figure 2 provides more information on this free curriculum.

While surveys indicate that many Americans, regardless of income, have much to learn about basic financial management, HHS is particularly interested in building the knowledge and skills of low-income families and couples in order to improve their economic stability and overall wellbeing. Community groups working with low-income families and special populations found that financial education programs needed to be tailored to address issues such as predatory lending practices or to specific immigrant groups who may mistrust financial institutions. Some programs also found that they needed to help families understand the financial and tax implications of complex family situations.

Figure 1

Example of a Relationship Curriculum: Family Wellness

Family Wellness: The Strongest Link: The Couple, is a curriculum that was developed by George Doub to teach couples and families skills to promote healthy relationships. Family Wellness believes that people learn best by practicing new skills in the moment and therefore provides facilitators with lesson plans that include a variety of interactive activities, such as role plays, sculpting, group and individual exercises, handouts and worksheets, and coaching opportunities. The couple-based curriculum has six classes that last for two hours each, listed below.

Session 1: Getting Started Together. This session discusses what defines a couple, what we bring to a relationship, individuals’ dreams and backgrounds, getting to know you and your partner, skills for building the relationship, and knowing when to speak up and when to listen.

Session 2: Being a Strong Team. This session centers on building and maintaining commitment. The class focuses on issues that can affect trust and respect—time, money, sex, parents, and in-laws. Participants are encouraged to look at their commitment to each other and discuss what it takes be a strong team.

Session 3: Two Worlds/One Relationship. This session considers how couples must have a good sense of themselves as individuals to be successful as a couple. It addresses cross-cultural couples; couples are asked to learn to accept and tolerate differences. The class also talks about building your family’s own cultural statement and integrating different rituals

Session 4: Know What You Want. This session asks participants to consider what they want for themselves and for their relationship, and what their values and goals are related to finances, time, and children. This session includes homework on paying bills, the cash-flow sheet, to consider your fixed expenses, flexible expenses, and occasional spending.

Session 5: Say and Get What You Want. This session focuses on working together to resolve conflict. It reminds participants that to get what you want with your partner you must also commit to help them get what they want, say what you want, listen, find and build on areas of agreement, take breaks when you're stuck, make short-term agreements, and make and follow rules for handling conflict.

Session 6: Blowing on the Embers. This session is about intimacy and how people define intimacy differently. It looks at intimacy in three parts; choosing the right partner, speaking the language of love, and the intimacy of touch. It also includes a discussion of what can reignite passion in a relationship.

In addition to this core couples curriculum, Family Wellness includes additional sessions for various target populations including expectant and new parents, couples as parents, couples and their parents, power and control in couples, adult relationships and stepfamilies, couple separations, and reunions.

More information is available online at


Figure 2

Example of a Financial Education Curriculum: Money Smart

Money Smart is a financial education program created and run by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). There are currently two Money Smart curricula, one targeted at adults outside the financial mainstream and one for youth ages 12-20. Money Smart materials are free and can be ordered on the FDIC’s website.

The adult Money Smart curriculum has ten modules, as follows:

  • Bank On It: Explains basic banking concepts
  • Borrowing Basics: How to borrow money from the bank
  • Check It Out: How to manage money through checking accounts
  • Money Matters: How to take control of financial situation by preparing a budget that includes savings and spending plans
  • Pay Yourself First: How to start savings plans and best ways to make money grow
  • Keep It Safe: Discusses how your money is protected by banks
  • To Your Credit: How to order and read credit reports; how to improve credit history
  • Charge It Right: Explains credit cards, characteristics, and their costs
  • Loan To Own: How to shop for consumer installment loans
  • Your Own Home: Explains benefits and pitfalls of owning a home versus renting, and how to apply for a mortgage

For more information, see

In response to the demand for financial education content tailored to low-income families, specialized financial education curricula have been developed, often for use in conjunction with asset building programs (discussed further below). One such curriculum, Finding Pathways to Prosperity, is described in Figure 3.

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