What’s your “money script?” Everyone has one. But not everyone knows what it is. Money scripts are your unconscious core beliefs about money. They’re typically developed in childhood and drive your financial behavior throughout life.
“When considering your approach to money and trying to determine if the way you are handling money is the right way, it is often useful to first consider how you view money,” said Tom Murphy, certified financial planner at Murphy & Sylvest in Dallas. “This is much harder than you might think because for most of us, our views of money were formed when we were quite young.”
There are four types of money scripts, said Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist, who co-wrote a study on the topic:
• Money avoidance: People with this trait believe that money is bad.
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• Money worship: These folks are convinced that more money will solve all of their problems.
• Money status: They believe that owning the newest and best things confers status.
• Money vigilance: These are frugal people who believe in the importance of saving.
Money scripts are known by other names, such as money personalities. But whatever label they go by, they have an overriding message:
“Psychological traits may interfere with the financial-planning process,” said Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and certified financial planner with Personal Financial Consultants, which has offices in California and Hawaii.
“Money-script patterns can predict disordered money behaviors, such as financial infidelity, compulsive buying, pathological gambling, compulsive hoarding, financial dependence and financial enabling,” he said.
The trick is to identify what your particular money script is and determine whether it’s hindering you from improving your finances.
“It’s becoming aware of what they are and then asking yourself: ‘Where did I get this belief?’ and then evaluating your current life and asking yourself: ‘How has this belief helped or hurt me?’ ” Klontz said.
For instance, an “aha” moment may occur when you realize that “you have a certain belief pattern that would predict that you’re going to have less income and less net worth,” he said.
The scripts also can overlap.
“Sometimes we have a lot of correlation between people who are money avoidance and also are money worshippers,” Klontz said. “They may seem to be totally opposite approaches to money, but when you think about it more holistically, it does make sense.”
For example, he said, you may covet the very thing you despise.
“The people who are so adamantly against rich people — if you actually sit down with them, they actually would like to be rich,” Klontz said. “We have simultaneously conflicting beliefs around money.”
Murphy has specific advice for those who operate with a specific money script:
• Money avoidance
“When those who feel this way get money, they spend it or give it away as quickly as possible because they do not want to be viewed as evil,” Murphy said. “This tendency is particularly strong when the money comes as a result of an unpleasant event, such as the death of a beloved family member. The money is a constant reminder of a horrible event, and those who receive the funds cannot wait to get rid of them.”
Money avoiders should spend time thinking through the good things money does, he said.
“Repeat every day that money is as important as the food and shelter it provides, the education it buys, and the health care it allows,” Murphy said.
“In our society, the way you get money is by providing a good or service others want,” he said. “Money is just the measure of how much others value that good or service versus what it costs you to provide it. Making a profit means other people find great value in what you do.”
• Money worship
“Money worshippers believe all problems will be solved if they just have a little more money,” Murphy said. “But there is no such thing as enough, and the more money they get, the more problems they think they have.”
Money worshippers should remind themselves there are many things money can’t buy, he said.
“The close family ties, friends and relationships you have are more important than the amount of money you have,” Murphy said. “Beyond a certain point, money does not make you happier; it just creates new problems. Focus every day on at least two things which make you happy and do not cost money.”
• Money status
“A status view of money can be a hard habit to break, since by the time you realize you have it you may already live in a house too large and owe too much,” Murphy said.
“This is the area which will require the most discipline. What is really important to you? Is it the size of your house or the strength of your relationship with your spouse and children?”
Ask yourself how maintaining that big house is helping you accomplish your long-term goals of financial independence or education of your children.
“If you are on the debt treadmill, cut up your credit cards and pay cash,” Murphy said. “Resolve to never pay retail again. Reducing your standard of living a little now will help you avoid reducing it a lot later.”
• Money vigilance
“Money vigilance means you understand the importance of saving, have good impulse control and are concerned about having enough money for emergencies,” Murphy said.
“If your primary trait is vigilance, you are likely already doing everything you need to do. Watch out for miser tendencies and enjoy your life.”
With money scripts or money personalities, the challenge is to not let them get out of control.
“There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these personality styles,” Murphy said. “Only carried to extreme, each can make it very difficult to achieve your goals. Balance is important.”