"As soon as we become aware of money, we develop beliefs about it - beliefs we cling to."
Let's talk about a guy we'll call "Fred." Fred hates rich people. On his social media accounts he posts memes about how they aren't being villainized, they are villains. More recently he posted about his frustration with the economy that he believes is rigged for the rich.
Fred doesn't save money. He chooses to view people with money in a negative light and to ease his discomfort, he tells himself the story that the system isn't set up for his success.
Fred's beliefs impact how he makes and saves money. Others have beliefs that say you should never talk about money. Others believe that more money would make them happy.
Our beliefs impact our behaviors and outcomes. It's worth exploring those core beliefs.
Our financial behaviors are what we do for and with our money. This includes our income, including our profession, how often we look for new jobs, how likely we are to ask for raises, and how aggressively we seek promotions.
Once you have your income, financial behaviors include what you do with your income. They include how much you save, where you save, and how comfortable or uncomfortable you are with savings. It includes how much you invest and how risky your investments are. They include how much you give and to whom you give. They include how you handle talking about money.
Financial behaviors represent anything we do for, with, or about money. They are neither good nor bad. The context matters.
Problematic Financial Behaviors
When our financial behaviors start to cause harm, either to ourselves or to others, they become problematic. This could be behaviors that are well known, like gambling too much, overshopping, or overworking. They also include money secrets, enabling others, involving children in adult matters, underearning, or not paying attention to money matters.
With few exceptions, these problematic financial behaviors make perfect sense to the person behaving this way. These fly by underneath our conscious awareness. Without doing some work you may never know 1) that you are doing something that is harmful to you or 2) why you do it.
Financial Belief and Money Script Origins
If beliefs drive behavior and our behaviors drive our outcomes, you might be wondering where our beliefs come from.
Beliefs we hold about money are called money scripts, which are money messages that we've internalized. Once they are internalized, or written, they drive our behaviors automatically. If it's helpful you can think of a script like an actor would. A written down dialogue that has to be read word-for-word. Alternatively, if you are tech-savvy, it might be helpful to think of a script like a computer program that runs. In both cases, once the script is written down it's followed - no questions asked. A money script runs in the background of our subconscious minds. The resulting behaviors are automatic and apply to anyone who has the same script.
Money scripts are mostly written in childhood, while we're trying to figure out how the world works. We develop money scripts in two ways, the first are from direct lessons (called overt money scripts if you like jargon!). We don't get a lot of lessons about money in our culture, though. Still, these can exist in the form of brief statements we hear over and over. Some examples might be "Money doesn't grow on trees," "You can have love or money, but not both," "If you're good you shouldn't have to worry about money," or "You only live once, splurge."
These direct lessons are based on our parents' (or parental figures') own money scripts. This means that money scripts are generational.
More often, though, are the money scripts that develop from us figuring out how the world works on our own (covert money scripts...). When we're young we desperately try to figure out how everything works and money is no different. Money touches every area of our lives so it's impossible to avoid. For example, if the only time we ever heard our parents talk about money it was when they were fighting about it, we would write a specific kind of money script about talking about money.
By piecing things together like this we are getting partial truths at best. This means that money scripts are contextual, or work in certain contexts but don't apply in all situations.
We get ourselves in trouble when we operate with money scripts written in one circumstance but try to apply those lessons once our situations have changed.
Financial Flashpoints: Money Trauma
The other main source of our money scripts come from highly emotional events around money that we've had to go through. These are called financial flashpoints. You can think of a financial flashpoint like the money version of trauma. These are intense, emotional experiences and because of the high level of emotion associated with them, our brains automatically ease that pain. This is done by writing a money script (or rewriting an existing script) so that we don't have to go through that experience again.
This is a defense mechanism. We were hurt and we'll do whatever we have to - whether it's logical or not - to avoid that pain.
Sometimes these are big events, like bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce, homelessness, or poverty. They don't have to be big, though. If you were embarrassed at school for wearing the wrong brand of clothing or had to get dropped off in the wrong kind of car, you've experienced highly emotional events that aren't big.
They don't technically even have to be negative events. They could be positive events that reinforced our behavior, supporting your money script that the behavior is worth doing. Alternatively, you may have had a family member bail you out once, leading to a money script that you'll never have to worry about money.
Financial Behavior Is Limited by Money Scripts
Our financial behaviors are limited by our money scripts. We can only behave in a way that is consistent with our beliefs. This can sometimes be visible to us, like if we had a gambling problem that prevented us from paying rent. That's quite obvious. Less obvious are the hidden connections between our beliefs and behaviors. If you have a belief that rich people are bad, for example, you might find yourself struggling to save up money. Subconsciously you don't want to become "one of those rich people" because they are bad and you aren't a bad person. If you have a belief that you are only successful if you have a large house and foreign car, you might find it difficult to keep your fixed costs below your means.
These connections between money scripts and financial behavior can be changed, but you have to do some work to identify your scripts so you can work to revise or replace them.
Replace Unhelpful Financial Beliefs
Once you understand the connection between your beliefs and your behaviors you can start to increase your awareness of your situation. By understanding your beliefs you can start to replace your old beliefs with new, more helpful beliefs.
This takes some time but is worth it. What belief do you hold that is holding you back? Where do think that came from? What are the situations in which it's true?
Now, think about some situations where it's not true. Zoom up to the forest and take a bigger picture view. Replacing your beliefs will help you increase your financial health.
Our experiences drive our beliefs. Our beliefs drive our behavior. Our behavior drives our outcomes. Is there something you wish was working differently? Explore this experience-belief-behavior chain to brainstorm how you can improve your outcomes.
You only have one life. Live intentionally.
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Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences
Dr. Brad Klontz YouTube Channel: Money Scripts: The Psychology of Wealth
Brad Klontz, Rick Kahler, Ted Klontz: Facilitating Financial Health
Brad Klontz, Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money
Bradley Klontz, Derek Lawson: Identifying Problematic Financial Behaviors and Money Disorders (in Financial Counseling)
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.
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