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One of the Most Important Counseling Questions You’ll Ever Ask

October 29, 2015

If you had to pick just one counseling question as the most important question you ask someone you’re trying to help – the granddaddy of them all, the big kahuna, the…number…one  – what would it be?

 “How do you see your life playing out if you keep doing things the way you’ve been?”

“Tell me why this is important to you?”

“Tell me how you think making this change will make things better for you (or your family)?”

These are a few of my favorites from a couple decades of trying to help people get to a better place financially. However, I really don’t think any of them are the most important question we can ask as financial counselors and advisors. Instead, I think the most important question is one we should ask ourselves. It’s a whopping five words and I actually have it crudely printed out and pinned to my desk so I can see it all day, every day:

“How will this change behavior?”How will this change behavior

Make Change
If you think about it, telling people how to make better financial decisions is good, and so is educating people on various personal finance topics. However, unless we actually get people to change their behavior, none of that telling or educating is really doing much long-term good. As the saying goes, keep doing what you’ve always done and you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.

Of course, this begs the question, "how exactly do you help someone change behavior in the realm of personal finance?"  In truth, we don’t think we’ve necessarily cracked the code (yet) on this topic but our work at The USAA Educational Foundation has led us to the following model:

  • Start EVERY effort with the question, “How will this change behavior?”

  • Since almost every young adult owns a smart phone, use technology to your advantage.

  • Get people to take many small steps rather than a few large leaps.

  • Make it enjoyable (dare we even say, fun?) rather than a chore.

  • When serving up education, do it in bite-sized portions.

Join Us
We’re using this approach to try to encourage financial behavior change in military families, so if you work with this audience we invite you to join us on our journey. If you’ll be attending the 2015 AFCPE Symposium in Jacksonville please consider attending our Thursday morning breakout session, “Improving Financial Readiness in the Military,” where we’ll share what we’ve learned as well as facilitate idea-sharing with your peers, all to help you better help those who serve. If the symposium isn’t on your calendar this year, please peruse our website and take advantage of our ever-evolving collection of free personal finance materials and tools available for you to use with your clients.

Oh, and one last thing…despite having a similar name to the commercial entity that so graciously created and funded us many years ago, The USAA Educational Foundation is a stand-alone 501(c)(3) private operating foundation that does not endorse or promote any commercial supplier, product or service. Our mission is simple: To lead and inspire actions that improve financial readiness for the military and local community.

We’d love to help you if we can.

Guest Contributor: Scott Halliwell, CFP®, AFC® Candidate, Financial Readiness Program Lead at The USAA Educational Foundation

The USAA Educational Foundation is the Platinum Sponsor of the 2015 AFCPE Symposium. 



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