Throughout 2018, The Prosperity Agenda collaborated with the Washington State Department of Commerce to develop a series of experiential, community event kits, called Money Power Up Packs. The packs were piloted with seven Community Jobs programs (a transitional jobs program within Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) across the state and served at total of 330 parents. Both rural and urban agencies participated in the pilot, representing different parts of Washington State in Aberdeen, Federal Way, Longview, Seattle, Toppenish, Vancouver, and Yakima.
The kits were developed through an iterative and collaborative design process. The goal was to improve financial resilience for parents receiving benefits through Community Jobs by building savings behaviors for parents and their children. The kits provided staff with everything they needed to launch engaging events for the parents they serve. Each event was implement from start to finish over one month, ending with a 60-90 minute event. Each pilot site held a total of eight events over the course of 2018.
The goal of Money Powerup Packs is to do more than share information. They aim to build community, celebrate progress, and create memorable experiences towards financial resilience and increased savings behaviors. The combination of activities create opportunities to discuss non-traditional savings tactics, reflect on needs versus wants, consider the social and cultural pressures to spend, and prevent decision fatigue around finances.
The events, combined with thoughtful facilitation, created a nonjudgmental safe space where participants learn about savings in a peer-to-peer environment.
The Prosperity Agenda secured Washington State Institutional Review Board (WSIRB) approval to conduct a program evaluation of the pilot phase of Money Powerup Packs, formerly known as the Savings Initiative Pilot. The goals of this study were to collect data and gather insight in order to:
- Assess the effectiveness and suitability of Money Powerup Packs for parents in Community Jobs Programs. This allowed The Prosperity Agenda to refine and adjust the events to deliver the greatest impact.
- Measure the impact on building savings behaviors among parents in the Community Jobs program.
It is often implied that families experiencing poverty make bad financial decisions–that if they were better money managers, they would not be experiencing poverty at all. This harmful narrative underlies too much of the financial education offered (and sometimes mandated) to these same families. Financial education can better help people achieve their financial goals by prioritizing social connection, creativity, and confidence. Financial education optimized for these experiences can counter the shame and embarrassment that often accompanies talking about money when you don’t have any.
We learned these lessons as part of three year project in Washington State, launched in 2016, to understand how caregivers think about and act on savings goals. Working with the Department of Commerce, we reached caregivers through the Community Jobs program (a transitional jobs program within Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). We engaged more than 300 caregivers, who we found to be fiercely resilient, unique, and hardworking as they sought to build financial stability and control. Released in July 2019, the report below details the eleven month pilot in seven sites.
Strategies and Recommendations
Through its partnership with Community Jobs, The Prosperity Agenda secured aggregated demographic data for program participants (which was stripped of identifiers). The data provide insight into who was involved in the program. Overall, there were 330 participants.
- Relationship with Money: Survey results suggest that people involved with Washington’s Community Jobs program, and who attended the MPUP events, are strategic and cautious about whom to involve in their financial lives. Specifically, more than 80% of participants agreed that when someone has money, they shouldn’t tell others about it. The primary reason people agreed with this was because they were afraid people would ask them for money (53% of respondents), and nearly as many said that money was just not something someone should talk about (45% of respondents). Table 2 provides guidance on how often participants think about money. The table findings suggest that money – and the lack of it – are very stressful to participants and weigh heavily on their minds.
- Savings and Spending: We were curious about what participants saved for and we asked them about their savings goals in the survey. The results of that question indicate that participants are primarily saving to cover unexpected expenses (47% of respondents) or are saving for a specific goal (39% of respondents). One third of participants are not currently saving. Respondents generally view themselves as having a “middle of the road” relationship to spending. When asked to place themselves on a continuum of spending and saving. Overall, the evaluation results indicate that MPUP participants straddle the line between saving and spending and are doing what they can to save extra cash; however, it remains very difficult for them.
- Banking: Overall, survey results suggest participants have confidantes and people they can talk to and trust when it comes to money and finances. Specifically, 80% indicated that they had someone they trusted that they could talk about finances. Most often, this person was a family member (44%), spouse (24%), or friend (18%). We also inquired about participants’ banking status through the survey. We discovered that only about one-half of the respondents had an account with a bank or credit union (See Table 5). Participants were asked to select all that applied to them, so some participants could have had multiple accounts. For those who were not banked, they had reasons they were not participating in an account with a bank or credit union.
In focus groups, participants indicated they viewed the MPUPs positively, listing strengths like strong design, facilitation, and an empowering, supportive environment. Each of these themes is described in the following sections.
- Money Poweup Packs are Engaging and Fun: Focus groups with participants clearly indicate that the packs are thoughtfully put together and effectively designed. Participants frequently mentioned that the events spurred conversation and discussion, which they found engaging, and that the event activities were fun. They frequently recalled specific interactive activities such as games in which they discussed alternative savings methods, and that they also exchanged physical items, intangible services, and moral support. Participants described MPUP design in the following ways.
- Money Poweup Packs Promote Thoughtful Facilitation: Another key strength of the MPUP design is the way the events are facilitated. The facilitators play a critical role in event success, and their kindness, support, and empowering approach make a significant difference for participants.
- Money Poweup Packs Support Social Connection: Participants also explained that MPUP events were a safe space for them to explore their relationship to money in a supportive environment. The creation of this space was directly linked to the nature of the facilitation and the facilitator attributes listed in Table 6. One of the key results of a safe space was the ability to build social connections with other participants. The events also provided participants an opportunity to share their feelings in a non-judgmental environment.
Tools & Resources
For more information, view the videos below or read more through our evaluation report “Evaluating Money Powerup Packs in 7 TANF Sites in Washington States” (July 2019) and in the Journal of Participatory Research Methods article, “Low-Income Families Guide Innovation: Application of Human-Centered Design” (July 2020).