We all have a unique relationship with money. Usually, this association is deep-rooted and developed over time starting from early childhood. Money Scripts are identified as the unconscious beliefs we have about money, often partial-truths, and sometimes they are passed down from generation to generation. Our money scripts tend to correlate certain statistics, such as income, net worth, debt levels, certain financial behaviors, and decision-making processes. Identifying your money script will even provide insights into your current financial health.
There are four core money beliefs (scripts): Money Avoidance, Money Worship, Money Status, and Money Vigilance. You might not just be one of the four, you might be a hybrid of two or three, with dominant characteristics of one. You might even have two money scripts that contradict or be a member of a household where everyone has a different one!
This quick and easy quiz below will get you on your way to observing and identifying yours – plus you can also download and print the quiz here. Once you’ve narrowed down your specific money script, challenge your friends and family to identify theirs as well. Light bulbs might go off on why opposing money scripts tend to make different financial decisions, have different emotions or reactions to events, and how they respond to financial matters entirely!
Now that you’ve sourced your money script, how can you use this newfound knowledge to your advantage? That’s right, being able to identify your money script is not only a powerful (and fun) activity but will also provide you with an awareness that allows room for change if necessary. The adage “Once you can name it, you can tame it” rings true here.
To the high scoring Turtles (9+ points), you are considered a Money Avoider. Deep down you may believe that all money is bad and that you do not deserve to have it. Ignoring your finances and avoiding thinking about money comes naturally to you. Sometimes you may even give money away or sabotage your financial situation in an unconscious effort to not have any money to manage. You may believe that wealthy people are greedy and corrupt and there is something to be said about living with less money, living more simply.
Having this negative association with money and wealth leads to ignoring financial statements that arrive in the mail, overspending, enabling others financially, or finding difficulty in creating or managing an expense budget. Those individuals in the helping professions, such as social workers and psychologists, tend to score higher in this area than those in other professions, such as business or financial advising.
Money avoidance can have a negative impact on your financial health. Below are some tips that can assist you in challenging and changing these beliefs:
- Automate your savings plan – creating a schedule where automatic monthly transfers take place into your savings account (without you having to direct it every time) will eliminate you sabotaging or preventing your savings strategy. Include IRA, 401k and other Qualified Accounts in this process – auto transfers or auto contributions will work miracles for you.
- Create a quarterly recurring calendar meeting where you sit down to review your financial statements, speak with your advisor, your partner/spouse, and evaluate your financial situation as well as budget. This way, you can’t avoid it completely knowing that you have a firm set date and time to have these conversations.
- Re-assess what money can do – how it can be good. Make a list of how money could help you, others, charities, non-profits, donations, philanthropic projects. Recognize how money can be beneficial if put to good use.
To the high scoring Bumblebees (9+ points), you are considered a Money Worshiper. We get it, we live in a society that worships money – how are we supposed to set ourselves apart when money worship is commonplace? The behaviors that stem from money worship may be toxic or destructive, but our society supports and even rewards this type of behavior. You may even believe that more money will solve all of your problems. What’s interesting is that although you think there is never such a thing as “too much money”, putting work ahead of family in the pursuit of money never quite satisfies or fulfills you.
You are more likely to overspend on yourself or others, have a lower net worth, and carry high debts. You find yourself making purchases in the pursuit of happiness. Going against societal norms has its challenges but paying attention to real moments of experienced happiness will help detach this mindset. Notice the distance and lack of correlation that happiness has to our level of income, net worth, and total possessions.
Money worship can have a negative impact on your financial health. Here are some tips to help challenge this mentality:
- What is important to you? Sometimes we forget why we are chasing money. Achieving wealth can quickly lose its glamour unless we attach it to our values. What are your plans with that money? Challenge yourself by asking yourself why. For example, I want more money to go on vacations. Why? To spend time with my family. Why? So we can have experiences together and create memories. If you scrape away the stuff, you can see what is important to you. What really matters doesn’t cost a thing! When we keep our priorities straight, it can help us maintain a healthy work-life balance and make sure to connect with loved ones throughout our day/week/life. After all, your relationships are more likely to bring you happiness than money in and of itself ever will.
- Eliminate Buyer’s Remorse! Who doesn’t like buying a new toy? It can be thrilling to make a new purchase, especially so if it was an impulse one. Often, that excitement dwindles away, and you regret the purchase. If you experience this, practice pausing between the idea of the purchase and the actual purchase. Come back later. Think if over. Evaluate the purpose and intention of the purchase. Does this purchase align with my values, beliefs, and family’s needs? Creating space allows your financial decisions to live in a more rational place, maintain its initial desire, and stop making you feel bad when the whole point was to make you happy.
- Give back. Support a charity, donate, or volunteer your time. How do you feel? Notice the impact. Did you feel better giving books to children in need or buying yourself something? You will surprise yourself! Make sure you budget the time and space for your giving initiatives and explore different ways to support others, beyond giving them money. Your time will be just as valuable to those in need (if not more).
To the high scoring Peacocks (9+ points), you are considered a Money Status Seeker.
You tend to link your self-worth with your net worth. You are driven to earn more money than your peers and taking risks to make money quickly plus the desire to buy expensive things is in your nature. Outward displays of wealth are important to you – and as a result, overspending is a recurring obstacle you face. You are more likely to gamble excessively, become financially dependent on others, or hide financial matters from your partner/spouse.
Sometimes you think that if you live a virtuous life, the universe will take care of you (financially speaking). Growing up, you may have experienced lower socioeconomic environments or were surrounded by a household that prioritized social status through displays of wealth. It is clear we live in a society that associates financial status with social standing. That being said, it is normal to be attracted to money and desire to be financially successful. Although these feelings are normal, if not identified and tamed this mindset can be damaging.
Here are some tips to keep your money status mindset from becoming toxic to your financial health:
- Create a budget and involve your family/advisor. The point of this exercise is to create accountability and get your financial situation in order. You want to make smart purchases, be intentional with your spending, and pay attention to how, when, and why you are spending. Your budget should not feel like constraints but instead, empower you to make the right decisions in your spending behavior.
- Work-life balance. You are constantly striving for financial success. In this pursuit, you may find that your work and life is not balanced. Take the time to dedicate hours to your family and loved ones, create connections that are separate from the strive to make money. Be aware of workaholism, this can have a negative impact on relationships as well as your own wellbeing. All the money in the world can’t buy you loving relationships or sanity. Create the balance.
- Challenge WHY before making purchases. Money status personalities tend to make purchases for the wrong reasons. Is the purchase filling a need? Or is the purchase a desire? Is the desire for myself, or for others? Recognizing the reasoning behind your financial decision making can shed light on this personality trait being present. Is the purchase for an appearance? Identify the emotions you experience throughout the entire process and how long they last. Is there a pattern? How can I eliminate the bad feelings and keep the good?
To the high scoring Squirrels (9+ points), you are considered a Money Vigilant. Unlike the turtle who avoids thinking about finances, you are always concerned about your financial future. You believe that being frugal, smart with spending, and saving as much as possible is important. You don’t believe in financial handouts and barely buy on credit, always maintaining low levels of debt. You tend to be anxious about your financial future but that just drives you to save more. You have a hard time spending on yourself and more likely to spend on others. You may be uncomfortable discussing money openly, however, you are never deceitful or secretive with your partner.
Although you have healthy concerns about your financial future, your high levels of financial prudence may prevent you from enjoying the fruits of your labor. Here are some tips to not allow your money vigilance to deprive you from the financial pleasure of life:
- You earned it, now enjoy it. Ever heard the term work hard, play hard? Well, you’ve got half of that equation down – you just need to embrace the second part. Nobody disagrees that financial stability and saving for the future is important to your financial health, you just need to remember that life is a journey and you should enjoy the ride. Saving all of your hard-earned money for a day that may never come is a scary thought. That’s why it is critical that you budget money for yourself and enjoy your hard work while you can. If you have a financial plan, you will see that including discretionary spending on enjoyment now will not hinder you from reaching your future financial goals. Enjoy responsibly.
- Open up with a trusted advisor. Although chatting it up about your finances with a girlfriend may be uncomfortable, try confiding in a financial advisor or financial therapist about your financial situation and specific goals. The point is to broaden your horizons a bit, hear new perspectives, and realize that although saving for the future is important, the anxiety and stress you may be feeling can be hindering your happiness and overall mental health. Pay attention or keep a journal of how often you think about finances. Is this time taking away from family time or causing unnecessary stress? Once you identify how much of your headspace your finances are consuming, you can create change and set up dedicated times to not allow your vigilance to take over.
- Create a play account. That’s right, just like you have been diligently saving for your family’s future goals, you should have a savings account that is intended for fun and play! If you are uncomfortable spending this account on yourself, involve your loved ones as well. Save for a fun family vacation, activity, or purchase that the whole family can enjoy. You will find pleasure in enjoying your hard work as a family, sooner than later.
As you may have noticed, even those that have the healthiest relationships with money will lean towards a money script (or two). From the exercise above, I hope you have noticed that you do not need to have money problems to identify with a money script. Perhaps before this article, you already noticed some financial behavior that is more obvious to pinpoint, such as compulsive buying, hoarding, workaholism, or financial enabling. Otherwise, the behaviors may be more subtle or – simply a mental roadblock instead of a physical one. Hopefully, you gained some insight into yourself and your personal relationship with money. It is only after you become aware that are you able to assess whether your script is restricting you from achieving your financial goals and living a financially healthy lifestyle.
To learn more about financial therapy, visit www.financialtherapyassociation.org
Article author Celia Meagher is a Morton Capital Wealth Advisor, CFP®, and is currently studying Financial Therapy at the Financial Therapy Association.
Klontz, B. T., & Britt, S. L. (2012). How Clients’ Money Scripts Predict Their Financial Behaviors.
Klontz, Brad, Sonya L. Britt, Jennifer Mentzer, and Ted Klontz. 2011. “Money Beliefs and Financial Behaviors: Development of the Klontz Money Script Inventory.”
Klontz, Brad, Sonya L. Britt, Kristy L. Archuleta, and Ted Klontz. 2012. “Disordered Money Behaviors: Development of the Klontz Money Behavior Inventory.”
Klontz, Brad, Rick Kahler, and Ted Klontz. 2008. Facilitating Financial Health: Tools for Financial Planners, Coaches, and Therapists.
Sages, R.A., & Britt, S. L. (2012). Introducing clients to financial therapy. Trust & Estates, 1519 (3)
Your Mental Wealth. “Discover Your Unconscious Money Beliefs” Web.
Zohlen, Evelyn M. “What’s Your Money Script?” Web. 23 May 2017. Financial Awareness, Retirement