Boosting Wisconsin families’ financial literacy

UW-Extension collaboration with Head Start linked to positive changes in financial behaviors, attitudes

Contact Peggy Olive, 608-647-6148, or J. Michael Collins, 608-262-0369,

Finding a few extra dollars at the end of the month can make a big difference to Wisconsin families feeling the pinch of a tight economy.

To help lower-income families improve their money management skills and become more financially secure, UW-Extension Family Living Programs has teamed up with community-based Head Start programs on the Money $mart in Head Start (M$iHS) initiative. Through M$iHS, Extension works with Head Start programs to provide financial education to parents in three different formats—newsletters, workshops and one-on-one financial coaching.

Studies have shown that financial education programs can help lower-income families improve their financial security, but developing trusted, cost-effective ways to reach them can be difficult.

“UW-Extension and Head Start have a history of working together,” says Peggy Olive, Family Living educator from Richland County UW-Extension. “Head Start is a trusted partner for connecting children and families to a variety of services and shares Extension’s mission of improving the well-being of families. Money $mart in Head Start builds on this history by bringing financial education to families.”

Beginning with the 2009-2010 school year, county Extension offices and local Head Start/Early Head Start programs formed M$iHS partnerships. Seven counties participated the first year, and the program is expected to operate in triple that number during the 2012-2013 school year.

M$iHS participants are asked to complete surveys to track the program’s effectiveness, including specific effects of the newsletters, workshops and coaching. In survey responses, parents have noted changes in their attitudes and behavior after they read the M$iHS newsletters, attended workshops, or participated in financial coaching. Some of those changes include:

–Less worry about their finances.

–More confidence in finding money to cover financial emergencies.

–An increased feeling of control over their finances.

–Greater ability to save.

Overall, parents who took part in the Money $mart in Head Start program:

–Had lower debt levels.

–Were more likely to have looked at their credit report.

–Were much more likely to use a written budget.

“Our results suggest that taking part in the M$iHS program is associated with positive changes in both financial attitudes and behaviors,” says Olive. “Having access to such fundamental information goes a long way towards increasing families’ financial capability.”

To learn more about the Money $mart in Head Start initiative, go to or contact your local county Extension office. Contact information is available at


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