Money is tough. Many people have to learn through trial and error how to budget, how to forgo impulse purchases and how to save. But learning how to manage money, whether it’s simple savings or a household budget, is an important step toward increasing independence for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
To help someone with a disability get started with their money management, begin with the basics and keep the process straightforward, visual and concrete. Use real-world examples and goals. Set attainable goals.
Many habilitation and job training programs, including The THRIVE Network’s Adult Day Habilitation program, offer financial education as part of daily living skills.
Here are some tips for the first steps in learning basic money management.
Track Income: Talk about where money is coming from and how often it is received, whether it is an allowance, a paycheck or some other regular disbursement. Knowing how much is coming in is the first step to determining a budget.
Track Spending: Keep a daily diary of every expense, large and small, including purchases, bills, money set aside for savings, etc. It’s a visual way to become aware of spending habits and how minor purchases can add up to big bucks. After a few months, the numbers will help in creating an accurate and achievable budget.
Budget: Rent, groceries, utilities, entertainment – just like that, the money is gone! Look at past spending and current income and create a budget. Make the budget a more visual and concrete using a “budget envelopes” book, which has separate envelopes for each anticipated expense, weekly or monthly. Counting out and allotting the money will make expenditures and savings more real.
Setting Goals: Saving money for a purchase or activity is a good exercise in budgeting – and it rewards good habits! Create a visual representation of the goal, like a fundraiser “thermometer,” and set benchmarks along the way. Talk about what could be done to reach the goal sooner such as extra work for additional income or cutting back some other flexible expenses.
Life Experience: Getting out in the real world and making a few mistakes is hard, but can be a valuable learning experience. On the other hand, saving up and having the thrill of reaching a goal will make budgeting seem worthwhile. Real world experience also means knowing how to use an ATM, how to count change and how to conduct retail transactions.
Once some of these more basic concepts are covered, move on to more complex issues such as the using a debit card, the responsibilities of credit cards, rental agreements, banking services and other financial decisions that are a part of most adults’ day-to-day lives.
And don’t be afraid to make it clear that budgeting is a challenge for everyone, and that you can learn and become better at it together.