Make a quick and lasting impression: use pictures

financial literacy poster
financial literacy poster

At home, in the streets, in our cupboards and on our screens, our landscapes are filled with advertising: pictures nudging us to buy this, eat that or use this service: lots of colours, a striking picture and a snappy slogan. Even if we don’t read them, our eyesight catches them and processes them. Didn’t our ancestors use their vision to detect dangerous animals and poisonous food? In a few seconds, they had to get a maximum of information to make a quick decision: run for life or hunt for food? You can experience how visual you are in a simple way: take a picture and look at it for two seconds… then take a text and browse through it for two seconds: close your eyes and try to remember as many details as possible from both: which one do you remember the most? One week later, which one still sticks to your memory?
Build brain connections:
By using spreadsheets and black and white wordy explanations, financial education makes it hard for us to process and remember what to do in a flash… in front of a shop window for instance or browsing an online shop. By only talking to our “rational” brain, financial education is ineffective at two levels: at the learning stage and at the recall stage (when we remember what we have learned). At the learning stage, the use of financial jargon and maths makes money courses very abstract and difficult to connect to and identify with. What kind of emotions does the word “budget” or “clothes spent to date: $120” spark? What about “My daughter’s bicycle in three months’ time” and “my wardrobe to date = 60 coffees = half my daughter’s bike”… These are the same, but this time with a personal and emotional connection. That will stick to your brain. This is why using stories and pictures is more effective during training workshops. Numbers don’t mean anything by themselves – translate them into their purchase power and turn them in tangible (and visual) items. Instead of introducing concepts like budgets which are not linked to anything (a bit like trying to memorise a list of foreign words without creating mnemonics), connect them emotionally to what participants already know. This way, notions will take root within their brains and lives instead of floating randomly disconnected from their experience.
Ideas and skills, one at a time:

At the learning stage, split each concept into two: the idea and the skills to implement it. For example, to explain what a budget is, introduce the idea by using a bottle of water and building a story around it… “Imagine you are crossing a desert, walking for five days with only one bottle of water. If you don’t plan, you are going to drink too much on the first days and run out of water.  You need to plan how much you can drink every day.” Now you have made the idea take life through a vivid story that participants can relate to (use jungle for people living in wet areas), you can link it to the financial concept. For instance, draw five lines on the bottle (five days + emergency) and replace the days by “rent”, “school fee”…  Once the concept is clear and connected to other knowledges, tackle part two: practising the skill by running a simple budget case with pictures and toy banknotes and finally turn the pictures into a spreadsheet.

Mango or banana?
At the recall stage, things get even more lost if you use only numbers and words; for many of us, what we have learned about money doesn’t come back at the time we need it (when shopping for instance). A big part of our decisions which impact our wallet are taken in a quick emotional way (the “fast brain” as Daniel Kahneman calls it in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”) while finance was learned in a very rational way. Trying to move all our decisions to the other “slow” rational brain is not realistic: it is going to slow us down so much that every decision –even mundane like “do I buy a mango or a banana?” – will become a painful process. We certainly have to take some decisions with our rational brain – especially decisions like how to finance a big purchase (house, land, car…) or expense (education…) and when doing our monthly and yearly budgets. But for daily life small purchases, it is counterproductive and vain to think financial education can urge people to be 100% rational in each and every decision… However these seemingly small expenses quickly add up and can make the difference between regularly saving for emergencies and living on credit.
Emotionally reasonable
We need to find ways to be emotionally… reasonable and counterbalance the nudges and messages sent by advertising and colourful packaging’s. When you try to convince someone, speaking the same language, taking examples from the same cultural references, using similar phrases will help your message go through more effectively: you will be understood. To address this mismatch between the shopping environment (advertising and packaging) and education, a+b=3 is launching a series of visuals and short videos – using the same communication tool as ads: colours, pictures and a snappy slogan, easy to remember when we need it most, out shopping.
This series consists of three parts:

  • Beware of debts: there is a huge gap between colourful ads to buy on credit or use a credit card… while warnings are always in small black letters – written by credit institutions that cannot be fully neutral as they are the credit sellers. This series consists of colourful ads on how interest grows (note: no calculation there, just pictures,- what matters is the understanding of compound interest, not the detailed maths behind it), think twice how to pay back BEFORE borrowing, how debts eat up future income, why it matters to have a written agreement, etc…
  • Think twice: don’t let others choose for you: these visuals appeal emotionally to each of us… to be more thoughtful on how we spend and envision our future.
  • Money connects us: money is a social tool – these visuals go beyond the usual financial education messages on ‘spend less, save more’ and put them in a wider context: how our spending and saving impacts our families, communities, countries and the earth.

A fourth topic on microbusiness will be available mid-2015.
In three words and many pictures: bewarethoughtful and mindful. These pictures are available for you to use (for free!). Contact us to get the link and more insights.

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