Cut! Are You Following the Script?

kids jumping on the bed

What is your most joyful money memory? What’s your most painful one? What messages did you get about money from your mother or father? How have these experiences affected your relationship with money?

These are some of the questions we ask to help people uncover their money scripts: unconscious, trans-generational beliefs from childhood, which still drive financial behavior into adulthood.

In our recently published research in the Journal of Financial Planning, my colleague Dr. Sonya Britt and I studied over 400 people, and we identified several patterns that predict how you’re likely to behave financially. Here are four common belief systems:

Money Avoidance: Money avoiders believe that money is bad, rich people are greedy, or that they do not deserve money. For the money avoider, money is a source of anxiety, disgust, or fear.

Money avoiders may sabotage their financial success or give money away in an unconscious effort to have as little money as possible.

They are at risk of overspending, sacrificing their financial health for the benefit of others, becoming financially dependent, and trying to forget about their financial reality. As a result, they have lower incomes and lower net worth.

Often, money-avoidant beliefs are rooted in low self-esteem and childhood experiences where money was misused or misunderstood. Unless you are able to accept that money is just a tool, which can be used for good as well as evil, you may unconsciously sabotage your success.

Money Status: Money status beliefs equate self-worth with net worth. People with money status beliefs pretend to have more money than they do, putting themselves at risk of overspending to give others the impression that they are successful.

They believe that if they are good and do the right thing the universe will take care of their financial needs. Those with money status beliefs tend to come from families with lower socioeconomic status and have lower income and lower net worth.

They are more likely to be overspenders, financially dependent, to lie to their partner or spouse about spending, and to gamble compulsively in an attempt to prove their financial worth to others.

When you equate the acquisition of material things with your value or status as a human being, you set yourself up for failure.

Money Worship: Money worshippers believe that more money is the key to happiness and the solution to all of their problems. They are more likely spend compulsively in an attempt to buy happiness. As a result, they carry more credit card debt, have less income, and have lower net worth.

Money worshippers are more likely to hoard possessions and put work ahead of their family, friends, and health. Money worship persists despite the fact that there is no correlation between money and happiness above a household income of $75,000 per year.

The belief that more money or possessions will make you happier is a common misperception in America, and one of the reasons behind our recent economic crisis. Many people believe a magical number or the next purchase will bring meaning, peace, happiness, security, or whatever else they feel is missing in their lives.

The problem is that when the target is met, the corresponding payoff never shows up. True happiness comes from our close connections, emersion in passionate pursuits, and helping others.

Money Vigilance: The money vigilant are watchful, alert, and anxious about their financial welfare. They believe that hard work and saving is important. They prefer to pay with cash and not buy on credit.

As a result, the money vigilant have higher income and higher net worth. They are less likely to engage in destructive financial behaviors. While their approach to money encourages saving, excessive anxiety can keep them  from enjoying the benefits that money can provide.

If you identify with one or more of the money script patterns above, the good news is that you can change your money scripts. If your pattern of thinking has sabotaged your financial success, you can challenge and change them.

Even better, our research would suggest that by changing your money beliefs, you can then alter the behaviors that may be holding you back.

Brad Klontz, Psy.D, CFP, is the author of Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders that Threaten Our Financial Health (Broadway Business).

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