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Marines' retail therapy problems lead to new program addressing 'emotional spending triggers'

Jul. 2, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Marine officials are intent on developing a new personal financial management curriculum that will focus on the emotional triggers that lead to poor spending.

The need for a new approach was identified by researchers with the Marine and Family Programs Divisionat Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, who realized that individual Marines’ financial problems continued even after a complete overhaul of financial education in 2011.

The courses rolled out then focused on practical financial skills, but researchers found that book knowledge doesn’t necessarily stem irresponsible spending habits.

“To date, our Marine Corps financial eduction model has been focused on established financial factors such as income, debt, saving for emergencies and living within one’s income,” according to a Marine solicitation to industry for the new financial curriculum. “Current research shows, however, financial acumen does not necessarily equate to improved financial decisions,” reads the solicitation, Emotional Money Triggers & Readiness , published June 12 on

Aren’t personal finances personal? Yes, until they begin leading to bad credit scores, excessive debt, bankruptcy or social problems that affect job performance.

“Personal management has been linked ... to many mission readiness issues such as security clearances, stress, suicide, divorce and retention,” reads the solicitation.

“You’ve probably had friends who use the term ‘retail therapy.’ I’m angry. I’m sad. That can lead some people to spend,” said Sean Conlon, the Personal and Professional Development branch head at M&FP Division.

The point, he said, is that emotions, poor impulse control, even life history play a role in irrational financial decisions. Current courses don’t cover the behavioral or psycho-social aspects of financial behavior.

The course will address a wide variety of topics: how childhood financial experiences influence adult behaviors; how peer pressure or a spouse’s behavior may affect financial stability; how emotions influence our view of what we need versus what we want; how society encourages instant gratification; even how deployments, military moves or injuries can affect spending habits.

Every Marine across the service will begin learning about emotional triggers and spending, Conlon said. Exactly how has yet to be determined. The solicitation asks for an interactive curriculum that can be used by personal financial managers at every installation. While that could take the form of a new course, Conlon said the behavioral and emotional lessons will likely be worked into all existing financial courses.

Whether as a new class or a component of existing courses, Marines should see the new material next summer.

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