Financial Literacy: The 23 step program

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I recently caught up with Canada’s money maven Gail Vaz-Oxlade to find out more about the “financial literacy computer game” on her website My Money My Choices.

Over the last several decades Vaz-Oxlade has published 15 personal finance books, four of which were on the best-seller list at the same time in January 2012. She has also filmed almost 200 episodes of her television programs, Til Debt Do Us Part, Princess and Money Moron.

But several years ago she decided that in spite of all the educational tools available to help Canadians manage their money, it was time to take a different approach. So on her own time and on her own dime she developed an online 23-step interactive game available free to anyone who has a computer and access to the internet.

My Money, My Choices is a community-based program, so those participating in the program will help family, friends, and coworkers get smarter about money. “All you have to do is find like-minded people AND have the gumption to finally take control of your money and your life,” she says.

Here’s how each My Money, My Choices community is set up.

1. First, you must pull together a Tribe. A Tribe is a group of interested participants from your community. You can characterize your community however you like but it’s typically defined as any group with similar interests. It could be your religious community. It could be at your school or workplace. It could be your book club, knitting club or hockey team.

2. Each community will include at least one Watcher. The Watcher is someone who is already financially literate, organized and has the time to shepherd the members of the Tribe through the program, tracking progress and acknowledging successful completion of each level.

3. Once you’ve gathered your community together, each person must enrol at mymoneymychoices.com. It is the starting point for all the tools you’ll need to take this journey together.

4. The Watcher guides the first two or three or four members of your Tribe through Level One. Once those first members have completed Level One, they will move on to Level Two. They will also each be responsible for guiding up to 4 new Tribe members through Level One. So, as each Tribe member completes a level, they will help someone else through the level they’ve just completed. That’s the “learn one, teach one” system.

5. When you’re guiding someone else through a level, you’ll be helping them to understand what they need to do, encouraging them as they complete each activity and signing off on their completions. You’ll be reinforcing your own learning. And you’ll be sticking with the program because others will be counting on you. That’s how you’ll stay on track. You’re an integral part of the success of the program in your community.

6. There are 23 levels in the program. You must complete a level before you move on to the next level. The first level is the most work because you have to do a six-month spending analysis; create a debt repayment plan build a budget; and, do your first net worth statement.

7.  Within each of the 23 levels there are a series of activities. When you do the activities you get points. The points are how you measure your progress.

8. At each level My Money, My Choices offers a link or reference to a resource to help you work through the activities. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

9. There is no race to the finish in this program. The point is always to be making progress. The other point is to always know the next thing you need to do to solidify your foundation.

Once you get past the first level, to achieve higher levels, you must use a spending journal, post to your budget every month, allocate money to savings and get your debts paid off. As you achieve different levels, you are awarded icons on a leader board visible to you and your Tribe.

Over 8,000 people have joined the game in the last year but to date, no one has finished all the levels. Vaz-Oxlade says that’s not surprising. “By the last level you are maximizing your RRSP. You have paid off your mortgage. You’ve paid off all of your consumer debt. This is an incremental process.”

You can expect to hear more about My Money, My Choices in the next few months as Vaz-Oxlade recently crowd-funded almost $4,000 on Indiegogo which she plans to publicize the game on social media.

The podcast and full interview transcript will appear on savewithspp.com in January 2015.

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