Teaching financial wellness to a group of people who are meeting for the first time is always eye opening. My favorite exercise in class is “What is Your Money Color?”

We all have a money color, according to Tope Fajingbesi, an inspirational speaker and personal development trainer. For this activity, I ask the participants to name their personal color under the following guidelines:

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  • Green: Always thinking about how your money can make more money.
  • Blue: You save, but do not want to invest because of the fear of losing money.
  • Yellow: Goes by the motto, “Work Hard, Play Hard.” Not necessarily in debt.
  • Gray: Never spends money; will rotate through the same four or five shirts every week.
  • Red: In debt, no delayed gratification mechanism; spends money as soon as it’s received.

I have tracked the responses from the last five classes, and the percentage of the people who say yellow or red is always dominant. Participants are always giggly when I ask them to read their answers after I tell them that I am a green, and not always in a good way.

The next question that I ask is, “What color would you like to be?” Surprisingly the majority of participants say blue with some hands up for green. The Blue team says they lack a proper understanding of how investments work and have no desire to learn; they just want to be okay.

I dive into the positives and negatives of each color. To be honest, I can never think of any positives associated with being red.

Also, being green is not always good. Sometimes being green means always looking for the next get rich quick scheme. Work hard, play hard (yellow) does not automatically mean someone is not paying their bills or that they are in debt. This is why it is important to spend time talking through the participant’s color choice.

I generally find that there is at least one emotional contributing factor to their financial behavior.

I once had a participant tell me that she got everything she wanted as a child and she wanted to give the same to her kids, but the reality was that she could not afford to keep up with her kids’ high demands. I did not tell her that she was wrong. I just encouraged her to think along the lines of buying a house where her children can have a great time growing up.

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Every time she had a desire to buy her kids a new gift, I wanted her to ask herself if she could put the money towards saving for a down payment. She later told me that sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. There were times that she gave in to her guilt and bought them whatever they wanted.

Processing guilt-related spending is a big enough topic for its own article.

There are always layers of emotional reasons why we act the way we do with money.

Even those people with good money habits have benefited from experiences they have had in their life. I keep this in mind when I talk to my class, and try to work with my students without judging them. While gently coaxing them to get to the more desirable money-spending colors, I also reassure them with stories of how it’s okay to be different.

I tell the story of my dad’s friend, who made $160,000 a year and would only buy the most basic car model and owned a total of five outfits. My dad refused to ride with him in the summer because he would never have air conditioning in his cars.

Mr. P was definitely gray. But the reason he was gray was because he had no family and loved to buy model trains. He would go to a train show and spend up to $10,000 at a time! He could afford to do that because he lived a life of frugality.

It just goes to prove that no color is a perfect fit, and that there are always shades of gray to each of us. Even those who have what most would consider good money habits have learned that behavior from experiences that they have had in their own lives. I am very compassionate about those facts when teaching this lesson.

Allowing the adults to talk about spending and saving habits in a non-judgmental environment allows them to build trust with you and the other participants.

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Teaching financial wellness to a group of people who are meeting for the first time is always eye opening. My favorite exercise in class is “What is Your Money Color?”