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What Bloom’s Taxonomy Can Teach Us About Money

in Joan's Posts, Money Basics, Pay Off Your Debt, Rants

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Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

When I was in about third or fourth grade, our gifted seminar teacher did something that ABSOLUTELY blew the mind of all the “smart kids” charged to her care.

She told us that knowledge wasn’t important.

Actually, she told us about Bloom’s Taxonomy – a set of learning objectives that, instead of finishing with knowledge, starts with it and builds outward.

The taxonomy is represented a bunch of ways – sometimes as concentric circles, other times as a pyramid, and in my favorite, as a butterfly with growing wings.

It started with knowledge. Then there was comprehension. That moved into application, which led into analysis, which grew into synthesis. And finally, there was evaluation, the pinnacle.

A guy named Benjamin Bloom proposed those as objectives for learning, in that order, in the mid-1950s, and they largely remained unchanged until the past 10 years or so, when the phrasing became active and the top-of-the-charts goals switched around, and now we have the following:

  • Remembering
  • Understanding
  • Applying
  • Analyzing
  • Evaluating
  • Creating

I’ve been in love with Bloom’s Taxonomy for ages. Talk about a weird thing for a little kid to get into, but it’s stuck with me for more than 20 years. And now, as a homeschooling mom, I get a chance to really think about it as a philosophy for learning and life.

Whatever you “know” is only the tip of the iceberg. Facts aren’t the goal. It’s the difference between knowing all sorts of trivia about your favorite actor – and knowing, deep down inside, when your best friend is hurting because of how they worded a single sentence in a text message. (Try doing that with your celebrity crush!)

Factual knowledge is the tiniest piece of real understanding.

Bloom’s Taxonomy and your money habits

So what does this mean when it comes to money? And specifically, what does that mean about how YOU can take what you “know” about money and level it up?

I’m glad you asked! 

Knowledge (Remembering)

This is the part of personal finance that most of us are too good at. We often know a lot of facts about money that have little application in higher-level situations.

  • We know how interest is calculated (at least generally).
  • We recognize that when an item goes on sale, it costs less.
  • We are aware of our bank-account balance.
  • Maybe we even know our total credit-card debt.
  • We can recite financial maxims like “Pay yourself first” and “Spend less than you earn.”

These aren’t bad – in fact, please, arm yourself with this kind of knowledge!

The biggest problem with this type of knowledge is that it generally doesn’t lead to action. We talk about this a lot. It’s not that ANY of us are here reading Man Vs. Debt because no one ever told us debt could be bad. That’s like what I used to tell my members as a Weight Watchers leader: None of us got here because no one ever told us vegetables were better for us than ice cream!

You should definitely build a strong foundation of money knowledge. But I’m going to challenge you today at each of these early levels: If that’s where you’ve stalled out, TAKE ACTION to go on to the next level!

Comprehension (Understanding)

This is where we start to dig a little deeper. We start to translate and extrapolate our “fact base” out a bit more. Comparisons start to pop up between situations. We’re still not taking action, but we’re THINKING.

  • We get a raise and chart out possibilities for the extra money instead of just absorbing it into the bank account.
  • We look at the amount of interest we’re paying on credit cards in a month and realize that we’re not making any progress just paying the minimums due.
  • When we’re in line at the coffee shop, we start to add up how much it costs to buy a Super Ginormous FrappaLappaDingDong every day for a week, or maybe even a month.

Many people come to Man Vs. Debt in this phase of their financial understanding. That’s where I was when I started following Baker. I knew a bunch of facts, and I was starting to put those facts together into a not-particularly-pretty picture of where I was going if I didn’t make some changes.

This is where I’m going to ask you to get uncomfortable. Think about the money you spend. Think about your debt. Let it freak you out. That freakout is an awful feeling – but it’s what will push you to take action.

Application (Applying)

This is where the rubber meets the road. My goal is to see EVERY reader of Man Vs. Debt reach at least this level of financial awareness – the ability to take facts and DO something with them.

Let me be clear: Taking action is really the FIRST step in paying off debt, building savings, and changing the way you think about money. But we haven’t really dug deep yet.

These actions are task-based. Please hear me on this – that’s not in ANY way bad. But if your financial well-being depends on knowing that someone else is going to tell you what to do next, you’re always going to be limited in your ability to respond to crazy situations. And trust me, those crazy situations will happen! So how do you go beyond the “task-list” approach to action?

Analysis (Analyzing)

Not gonna lie, analysis might be my favorite part of Bloom’s Taxonomy. It’s the part where you break down information into parts and identify motives and causes. This is where you find your Big Why!

I might have a little (lot) of a problem with paralysis by analysis, so I’ll warn you in advance to be careful.

When we talk about this being a higher-level piece of the financial picture than application, we don’t mean that you should REPLACE action with analysis. What I’m encouraging you to do is keep acting – but simultaneously start analyzing and making changes to your actions as a result.

This is the fun part, you guys. This is where we start to get real about ourselves and our money. And here’s my take: This is the level at which you can start to make lasting changes in your life.

Anyone can take action – for a while. When you get emotional, when you dig deep, that’s when you make REAL habit and mindset changes.

Evaluation (Evaluating)

Ah, the judgmental part! We’ve all got this tendency, but we seem to use it in the unhealthiest ways. When it comes to changing your relationship with money, evaluation means making hard judgment calls about what works and what doesn’t.

  • We bought that gym membership, and we ARE going, at least occasionally. But we’re not really seeing any benefits in the limited time we can devote to it, so we decide to forego it next year.
  • We set up a budget, AND went back and compared it to our real spending, AND adjusted it as needed for the coming month.
  • We realized that a certain store with a red bullseye logo was ALWAYS detrimental to our attempts to have fewer things and build up an emergency fund, so we quit going there “just for one thing!”

This is hard – maybe the hardest. This level used to be the pinnacle on Bloom’s scale for a reason; it requires ONGOING commitment, not a once-and-done approach.

Even if something works now, it might not (and likely will not) work forever. Evaluation is the stage in the process where so many people who are doing great get tired. It’s easy to give up when it feels like you have to keep adjusting, and tweaking, and never arriving at something that feels “easy.”

Synthesis (Creating)

I’m told that you never really understand something until you can take it apart and make something new. When it comes to thinking about money, I think I’m just now moving into the synthesis period of my understanding, so realize that I’m sharing my thoughts on this stage as someone very new to it, not someone who has “arrived.”

I like this level of learning a lot because creation means so many different things.

  • In the Bakers’ case, once they shaped their own financial future, they created a community of like-minded people to walk the journey with them! (Hey, that’s us!)
  • In my case, I created a new lifestyle – one in which I could work from home and homeschool my daughter, Sarah, without being dependent on the income from an inflexible job!
  • In a more tangible sense, this is where things like our free resource kit to kickstart your money come in. These are specific tools we’ve created after going through the action, analysis and evaluation process to help move YOU along the path!
  • This is as big as making a movie and as personal as doing one kind act for a stranger, and everything in between.

Creating is where you take all the things you’ve done to change your money habits, all the actions, all the thoughts, all the self-examination, and turn it into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

***

I needed to know facts about money in order to begin to realize the hole we were digging as a family. I needed to take simple actions – and then I needed to think more about my motivations and dig deep personally. I needed to readjust, rearrange and recommit – over and over again.

And I needed to take what I’d learned and share it.

And I needed to do those things in part because of what we needed financially, but it’s really about so much more. These changes were really about changing the way we interacted with each other and with the world around us. Money is part of that – but the more important piece for us has been building a new lifestyle, one that uses money as a tool, nothing more.

I’d love to challenge you today to point out where you fall (generally) in your thinking about money.

Are you moving into the point of applying what you know? Are you ready to analyze and evaluate? Are you creating the life that works for you after a lot of hard work and change?

Which part of Bloom’s Taxonomy best describes your journey?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

pt November 26, 2013 at 2:21 PM

I am stalled out on Step 1. As soon as I pay some of my debt off, I do something stupid like charge a frivolous purchase on another card!

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Cay November 26, 2013 at 9:23 PM

Hey Joan,
“Thankful” for your article today. Enjoy your Thanksgiving!!

Happy Thanksgiving.

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MITM November 28, 2013 at 8:53 AM

Joan,
This is fascinating! I don’t think I had ever heard about this before.
If feel like every stage applies to me in some way or another.

I went to school, got three masters degrees in Business Admin, Finance and Accounting and currently work as a regional CFO of a Fortune 100 company. [KNOWLEDGE AND COMPREHENSION]. So used to think I knew a lot about finance.

But over the past 3 years since we truly started budgeting I’ve really understood it a LOT better [APPLICATION].

And in doing so, I’ve had to change a lot of bad habits and do some self evaluation in the process [ANALYSIS and EVALUATION].

And most recently I’ve started helping others both through counseling at my church and blogging. [SYNTHESIS?]

Wow, that was a long comment! :)
Anyway, thank you for the post. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will keep checking back for more!

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Steven Le November 28, 2013 at 1:13 PM

I’ve always been a thinker. I hardly ever take action sadly. However, whenever I do manage to pay off some debt I tend to feel good and go off and create more debt by buying something I don’t need!

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Mike Goodman November 28, 2013 at 7:55 PM

Knowledge without action is wisdom wasted. I couldn’t agree with you more on bringing your knowledge into the next level. Changing your money habits will only happen if you put your knowledge into useful and consistent actions.

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Samantha November 30, 2013 at 5:59 PM

Thank you for this post, Joan. I needed something like this to re-kick start my financial plan and reasons for being debt free. I’ve sold pretty much everything I can and realize that I can’t take on too many more jobs to increase my income…or can I? Maybe it is about working smarter not harder, and utilizing a community to reach more people. Now that another year has passed (evident by recent Holidays and New Year’s Party invitations) I look back over this year, assess, and the path I thought I was on needs to be tweaked for the last two months of 2013. It seems I got a bit sidetracked. This article made me realize where I made a “wrong turn” and how I can quickly get back on my path to living a more financially rewarding, debt free, life.

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Claire December 1, 2013 at 4:45 PM

Hi Joan,
I love this post! What an interesting take on our finances. It makes perfect sense. I was at the comprehension part for a LONG time, just understanding that I had debt because of x, y and z, but doing a lot of thinking with very little action.
A little over two years later, I’m switching between evaluation and synthesis, just because, as you mentioned, each phase of the debt business needs a new approach, possibly because we have it from more than one source and it can’t be tackled in the same way all the time. It feels easy for a while, then an unexpected bill comes up and tests our strength to continue in the same way as before. So this time it maybe requires a new thought process, which I think is a good thing because it teaches us more ways to solve problems and keep us fighting the debt mountain!
I know what I need to do, and while it’s been baby steps all the way since Jan 2011, the sum of those steps is now quite huge. The synthesis is always there, but takes some creativity to unleash it sometimes!
Good luck with continuing your debt blasting :)

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