“You are the books you read, the films you watch, the music you listen to, the people you meet, the dreams you have, and the conversations you engage in. You are what you take from these. You are the sound of the ocean, breath of the fresh air, the brightest light and the darkest corner. You are a collective of every experience you have had in your life. You are every single second of every day.” -Jac Vanek
By the time we reach adulthood, we are far from a blank slate. We see the world through the lens of our own collective experiences, some of which we are aware of - and some not. This is true for all areas of life including our attitudes and feelings about money.
Money scripts are the unconscious beliefs each of us has about money. Because most of these beliefs were formed from the interpretation of our experiences, what we were told, the culture, and the economic conditions of our childhood, many of the perceptions and assumptions we are continuing to believe about money are only partly true.
For many of us, we know what we need to do to improve our financial situation, but we just can’t seem to make it happen. Or, we begin to see slight improvement with the way we handle our money, but end up sabotaging our financial well-being in one way or another. Leaving an outdated or inaccurate money script unexamined is the driving force behind a lot of financial fear and self-sabotage.
The first step in developing a healthy relationship with money is to get familiar with your money scripts to gain a better understanding of what makes up your unique money story. Since most of our current decisions are being made by beliefs and attitudes we may not be aware of, we cannot change our financial situation over the long term until we understand our associations and beliefs about money.
Cultivating awareness in this way is the first step toward financial health as research has found certain money scripts to be directly correlated to net worth, income, credit card debt, financial behaviors as well as other aspects of overall financial health.
There are four most common types of money scripts according to Brad Klontz, Psy.D.,CFP, who co-wrote a study on this topic:
Money avoidance: People with this trait believe that money is bad and that they don’t deserve money. Money stirs up fear and anxiety. Believe they are better off if they have less money. Money avoiders are more likely to have low incomes and are at risk for workaholism and financial dependence.
Money worship: These folks are convinced that more money will solve all of their problems, that there will never be enough and that money brings safety, power and happiness. Behaviors include chronic overspending then ignoring the money spent. This money script is associated with higher levels of credit card and other debt.
Money status: Status lovers believe that owning the newest and best things confers status. Individuals who grow up in lower socioeconomic classes are likely to hold money status scripts. Those with this script may be at risk of overspending or excessive risk-taking in an attempt to raise one’s perceived social status.
Money vigilance: People with this trait embrace frugality, the importance of saving and being discreet about how much they have or make. More likely to opt for cash transactions and forego using credit cards. May suffer from workaholism or keep someone from enjoying the sense of security that money can provide.
It is not uncommon for a person to have two or more competing money scripts. When taken to the extreme, each can make it difficult to attain overall financial health and achieve financial goals. The first step is to become aware of what our money scripts are and whether or not those scripts are helping or hurting us.
What messages did you receive about money as a child from your mother or father or other person of influence? These messages may have been in the form of what was said directly about money, how money was handled, or financial emotions.
When you were young, did you consider your family to be rich, poor, or middle class and how did that feel for you?
Was money a source of conflict in your family? A tool for achieving goals?
What is your first money memory?
Do you worry about or avoid financial matters?
Are you more of a spender or a saver?
What money habits have prevented you from reaching your goals? What habits are working?
Now, begin to track your thinking leading up to a financial behavior. It may take some practice in order to increase awareness of your automatic financial thoughts.
After engaging in a financial behavior,
1. Think back to what happened that prompted the behavior (trigger). Were you feeling anxious or sad about something?
2. What went through your mind (money script)?
3. What was your impulse? This helps to identify what your beliefs are compelling you to do.
4. Lastly, what did you do? This tracks the behavior that resulted from the trigger, money script, and the impulse. This exercise can help to reveal patterns in our thinking and behaviors.
Developing a healthy relationship with money starts here. Feeling we deserve financial health and success, have the right to wealth, and have the ability to reach our life goals and do good things in the world all begin with challenging and changing our beliefs about money.