Many of our regular readers and blogger friends know that I’m a teacher. Even if you didn’t know, you may have noticed we have several posts specifically aimed at helping teachers with their money.
While our previous teacher posts have sought to teach (pun intended) educators about career-specific options they may not have been aware of, I thought I’d go outside the box by repurposing a tool most educators are familiar with to help them make progress in their finances.
After all, one of the most effective teaching methods is to connect new material to something your learners are already familiar with.
Of course, the tool to which I’m referring is an IEP, or individualized education program.
Being a special education teacher, I’m intimately familiar with IEP’s and write many of them every year. And although general education teachers don’t write IEP’s, it’s highly likely they’ve had students with IEP’s in their class and participated in IEP meetings.
As a result, all education professionals should be at least somewhat familiar with IEP’s and their purpose, which is to provide a detailed plan for a student to make progress in certain areas at school.
You’ve seen IEP’s for your students, you may even have written them, but have you ever thought about writing an IEP for yourself?
What would happen if you used the structure of an IEP to help you reach your money goals?
Here’s how teachers can use an IEP to reach their money goals.
What is an IEP?
First, for those of you who aren’t familiar, what is an IEP?
IEP stands for individualized education program, and is a plan developed by special education teachers with the help of parents and other team members to guide the education of a student in need of specialized instruction.
While it’s true that students with IEP’s have qualified for special education, it’s important to know that students may need specialized instruction for a variety of reasons. Students could have learning difficulties, difficulties with attention, or may have social/emotion support needs due to trauma or other reasons.
Whatever the reason, the purpose of an IEP is to identify areas needing support, develop goals to work toward meeting those needs, and to provide the instruction and support needed to reach those goals.
Areas of need are identified through measurable data, and progress is monitored to ensure that the student is making progress toward their goals. The IEP is reviewed at least yearly, with goals being rewritten or amended as necessary.
Through this highly structured plan (IEP) and specialized instruction and supports, the overall goal is for students to work toward developing skills in areas of weakness so that they are eventually at the same level as their same-age peers.
Parts of an IEP
There are many parts to an IEP, not all of which are relevant to teachers setting their own goals for improving their personal finances.
However, there are 3 major parts to an IEP that are relevant and will be discussed next. First, I’ll explain what each part is and its purpose, then I’ll explain how teachers can use this part of an IEP to develop a plan to reach their money goals.
The first major part of the IEP is the Present Level of Academic and Functional Performance, or PLAAFP.
The purpose of this section is to offer a snapshot of where the student is currently at, both academically and functionally (social/emotional/behavioral/physical).
It’s easy to understand what is meant by academic skills, but another way to think about functional skills is that these are the skills a student will need to successfully navigate their life and can include a variety of things. Also included in the present levels are the strengths of the student and the concerns of the parent/guardian.
Taken together, the data presented within the present levels allows the team to identify strengths and areas that should be targeted for improvement. Those areas can be either academic, functional, or both.
Using Present Levels for Reaching Your Money Goals
Using the idea of present levels is very helpful, and in fact essential, for reaching your money goals.
You won’t be able to make progress toward your goals until you know where you stand and identify your areas of weakness.
Instead of present levels of academic and functional performance, identify your present levels of spending and savings performance.
Specifically, you should identify what you’re spending your money on and how much you’re spending. You should also determine how much you’re saving and where those savings are going (retirement accounts, savings accounts, other?).
Other “skills” you should assess are your debts, budget, net worth, income, credit score, and anything else relevant to your personal finances.
The goals are the heart and soul of an IEP and come directly out of the present levels. Once you’ve gathered all the data for a student it is easy to see where they excel and areas that need improvement.
Goals should be written in such a way that any teacher could look at them and understand exactly what the student needs to work on. As such, they must be concrete and measurable. Goals are also written with the idea that they could reasonably be reached in a years time.
There is no set number of goals required, as it’s determined solely on the individual student and what they need to work on. As such, some students may have only one goal while others may have 5 or 6.
Using Goals to Reach Your Money Goals
It’s obvious how using the goal aspect of an IEP would help teachers reach their money goals, but the real assist comes in how IEP goals are written as well as the data used to develop them.
Most people have broad goals when it comes to their money, such as saving more or getting out of debt. However, these broad goals are more difficult to accomplish because you don’t really know what you need to do to meet them.
That’s where writing IEP-style goals can help.
Remember, IEP goals must be concrete and measurable, as well as something that could realistically be reached within a year given the present level. Furthermore, they are developed as a result of identified weaknesses.
After looking at your money data, you might see that you have very little savings. Thus, an IEP money goal for increasing your savings might look something like this:
Starting next month, I will automatically add $100 to my savings account with each paycheck so that I will have an emergency fund of $1,200 by this time next year.
Whatever goal or goals you write for yourself, make sure they are specific, measurable, and something that you could realistically achieve within a years time.
The last major section of an IEP that teachers can use to reach their money goals is the Service Summary page.
Once you’ve identified weaknesses and written goals, the purpose of the Service Summary page is to identify the specialized instruction and supports that will be needed for the student to reach their goals.
If you have math goals, then the student will need to be given a certain amount of specially designed instruction in math every week. This means that the instruction is designed specifically for that student in that area to help them learn whatever concepts are specified in the goal.
Other things that may be included on the Service Summary page are accommodations to help the student such as preferential seating, breaks, extended time on assignments, etc. Students may also receive other supports such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or counseling.
Using the Service Summary to Reach Your Money Goals
This part of the IEP will be very different for a teacher trying to reach their money goals, but the idea of specifying the supports you need to reach your goals is valuable.
For this portion of your IEP, decide what you need to be successful. Will you need to start a side hustle? Make a budget? Reduce your spending? Do you need to seek out financial help or enlist your friends and family?
Whatever your goals, use this portion of your IEP to decide what supports you will need to reach your goals and then make sure you follow through in accessing them.
Putting it all Together
Now you know how you can use an IEP to reach your money goals, so let’s put it all together.
Your IEP will be a simplified version of an IEP written for a student, but it will still contain the main components of the Present Levels, Goals, and Service Summary.
First, identify where you’re at with your finances. Make sure you know all your debts, savings, net worth, credit score, budget (if you have one), income, and anything else relevant to your overall financial picture.
Once you’ve gathered all the data, identify weaknesses and areas you could improve upon.
Then, use those weaknesses or areas needing improvement to develop money goals. Make sure your goals are specific and measurable, and something that you could realistically reach within a year.
Finally, identify any supports you will need to reach your goals. Write down anything you will need to do, changes that will need to be made, and anything else that might help you reach your goals.
Write out your money IEP and save it for future reference and review.
Writing the IEP is just the beginning, now you need to make sure the plan is resulting in change. That’s where progress monitoring comes in.
Student IEP’s must be reviewed/rewritten annually, but special education case managers must also provide progress notes at the same time that grades are given.
These notes tell you where the student is in terms of progress toward meeting their goals, typically with both a rating scale (not making progress, making progress, meeting the goal, exceeding the goal, etc.) and updated data.
If the student is making progress toward the goal, then things typically remain the same. However, if the data is showing the student isn’t making progress than it may be time to amend the IEP.
When using an IEP to reach your money goals, it will be important that you also use progress monitoring so that you know whether things are working or if changes need to be made to reach your goals.
Many people choose to update their progress monthly, but you could also do it on a quarterly or semester basis like an IEP would be.
Whatever the schedule, it will be important to monitor your plan to make sure things are going in the right direction and to make changes as necessary.
Once a year, have an annual review of your IEP to recap your progress from the previous year and to write a new IEP for the year to come. Keep your IEP’s and progress monitoring notes all together so you can easily see your progress from year to year.
Moral of the Story
Teachers work with students with IEP’s all the time and may even write them and be responsible for managing them.
These detailed plans help the team understand what skills the student needs to work on and provides the structure for helping them to develop those skills.
Although teachers are experts at developing plans for helping their students, they may not be as proficient in making plans for meeting their own goals, especially when it comes to personal finance.
That’s where an IEP comes in. You use them all the time for your students, why not use the same structure to help yourself make progress with your finances?
First, gather all your money data so you can get a good picture of your personal finance situation. This data will serve as your Present Levels of Spending and Saving Performance. Use that data to identify weaknesses and areas in need of improvement.
Once you understand the areas that need improvement, begin writing goals to improve those areas. Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, and attainable within a year.
Finally, write down all the things you will need to achieve your money goals, including all the things you will need to do and other supports.
Once you’ve written your money IEP, make sure to monitor your progress at least quarterly, making changes as necessary to keep you on track. After a year, review your IEP and write a new one for the coming year. Save your IEP’s and progress notes so that you can track your progress from year to year.
IEP’s are used to help students in special education build the skills they need to make progress in school and life. They are incredibly effective tools for helping the students who need the most support.
But IEP’s aren’t just for students. The format and structure can be used for anyone wanting a detailed plan for making change in their life.
This is how teachers can use an IEP to reach their money goals.
Talk about Money Saved.
Tawnya is an elementary special education teacher by day and co-blogger at Money Saved is Money Earned by night.
She holds an Honors BS in Psychology from Oregon State University and an MS in Special Education from Portland State University. She has had a pretty successful writing career, first as a writing tutor at the Oregon State University Writing Center, and in recent years, as a freelance writer.
Tawnya and co-blogger Sebastian have a wealth of knowledge and information about personal finance, retirement, student loans, credit cards, and many other financial topics. They teach people how to save money, make money, and understand money.