OPINION — Money scripts are beliefs we have acquired about money and how it works. We are usually unaware of these beliefs, in part because we see them as facts—”just the way it is.” We typically hold 50 to 200 money scripts, which affect every financial decision we make.
All money scripts are contextual and thereby partial truths. They are true in some situations and false in others. As kids, we develop these beliefs through our interpretation of how money affects us.
Financial therapists and researchers, including Dr. Brad Klontz, have found that money scripts typically fall into four categories: Avoidance, Worship, Status, and Vigilance. I’ll discuss each one in a series of four columns.
While we all have money scripts from each category, typically one type will dominate our financial behaviors in ways that are often not helpful to our overall wellbeing. If you are curious about your money script categories, you can download a clinically tested evaluation, “Identify and Understand Clients’ Money Scripts: A Framework for Using the KMSI-R.”
Those with dominant Money Avoidance money scripts may resist budgeting, investing, managing finances, or even learning about money. The further away they can get from financial decisions, the better. Their money scripts are generally based on the belief that wealth is evil and money is bad and anxiety-provoking. Money Avoiders may also believe that they don’t deserve money. Some are convinced the world would be a better place if money had never been invented.
Research shows that Money Avoiders are more often young and single; this money script category is associated with lower levels of education, income, and net worth. Money Avoidance scripts have been found to predict a range of self-defeating money behaviors, including compulsive buying disorder, hoarding disorder, financial enabling, financial denial, and workaholism. Interestingly, mental health professionals score highest of all professions in this category. Having worked closely with mental heath professionals for almost two decades, I’ve observed this first-hand. This is one reason why a financial therapist is typically a better choice than a mainstream therapist if you need to work through an emotionally laden financial problem.
It is no surprise that Money Avoiders typically have financial stress and can struggle to achieve financial wellbeing. Without addressing these limiting beliefs, people with Money Avoidance scripts often fail to achieve financial independence. Dr. Brad Klontz of Your Mental Wealth Advisors suggests four ways that Money Avoiders can begin to increase their financial wellbeing.
1. Work to create rituals and habits around becoming financially informed. This might include scheduling regular meetings with a business partner, spouse, or financial planner to review your financial situation. “Your comfort level talking about your money will increase as your financial knowledge does.”
2. Consider ways money can be beneficial for yourself and others. Come up with a plan for using your money to do good. Find examples of wealthy people that do good things with their money.
3. Create a mantra briefly describing why it is okay for you to have money. Keep it near a place (your wallet, checkbook, or computer) where you pay bills or otherwise deal with money. “Replace ingrained bad thoughts about money with this positive mantra when you work with your money.”
4. Set spending and saving goals that you can achieve easily without feeling punished or deprived. Reward yourself when you reach them, and gradually increase your goals over time.
Along with building new habits such as these, it’s helpful to explore what’s behind your Money Avoidance scripts. Understanding and reframing them, with the help of a financial therapist or coach if necessary, is crucial to making lasting changes in your money behavior.
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