Plan Your Spending and Your Future with Money Talk

Money TalkAMES, Iowa -- Celebrating holidays, birthdays and other special events often includes a meal with family or friends, decorating, gift giving and more. But where will the money come from to pay these celebration expenses?  Money Talk, from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, can help Iowans learn to plan for holiday and other spending, and improve their financial future.

“If a celebration is not in your spending plan, then you might not have enough money set aside to pay for it. So you’ll either have to miss an event that’s important to your family, or you may take on debt that you can’t afford,” said Ruth Freeman, a family finance specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach. “You can avoid this no-win situation by learning to manage your money throughout the year.”

Money Talk is a five-lesson, money management course from ISU Extension and Outreach. In the very first lesson, participants learn how to set financial goals and build a spending plan that meets those goals, Freeman explained. A spending plan includes family living expenses such as food, the mortgage or rent, utilities and auto repair. It also includes occasional expenses such as annual or semi-annual insurance premiums, car licenses, school registration and special event celebrations.  

The other lessons in the series cover insurance, investing, planning for retirement and legal preparedness.  Money Talk is offered face-to-face and more information is available at

Spending with a Plan

“Before participating in the program, some Money Talk participants said they spent money without a plan. If they had a dollar in their pocket it was easy to spend it. After completing Money Talk, participants know how to determine whether something is truly a need or a want,” Freeman said.  

Nearly 75 percent of Money Talk participants throughout the state report that they have begun using a system for planning and tracking their spending or have improved their existing system. These systems can help families as they plan for holiday celebrations, Freeman said.

More than 75 percent of Money Talk participants report taking steps to reduce debt, Freeman continued. One woman said that before she participated in Money Talk her family owed more than $10,000 in credit card debt. As a result of Money Talk, she and her husband set financial goals and began the long process of paying off their credit cards. A few years later she reported to her class instructor that they were debt free except for their home mortgage.  

“Families that have little or no debt have more money available for their needs and wants, thus rely less on the local food pantry or public funds to live. After they begin funding investments for their future, they often are able to spend money on consumer goods, thus helping the economy,” Freeman said.  

Three-fourths of participants report that as result of Money Talk they are taking steps to prepare for retirement, Freeman said.  

One Money Talk participant said the program “really helped me see where I could be if I start investing now. I also learned how to overcome small problems I had early on and the steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

About Those Holiday Expenses

“Getting back to those holiday celebration expenses, if your family is searching for ways to find money for your future, consider spending less on your next holiday and saving or investing those dollars,” Freeman suggested.  

“Do you have decorations from prior years that you can reuse in new ways? Can you give gifts that cost little or no money? What about making a gift certificate to mow someone’s lawn or babysit? How about giving a baked good along with the recipe? These and many other ideas honor the people who are important to you, while reducing credit card debt in January. And consider signing up for Money Talk,” Freeman said.