It's Not Because of a Lack of Money


"Mo money. Mo problems."


-Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace


1994: I'm mowing my grandparents' lawn in the summer heat. It's hot, and the grass is really long because I haven't been by in a while. Sometimes I have to stop mowing and shake the mower up and down because grass clumps get caught in the blades.


When it's all over, Grandpa pays me $5. My friends and I jump on our bikes and peddle our way to West Acres, a mall on the southwest part of Fargo, ND. It takes a long time to get there, but it's a fun ride. I waste my whole five-dollar bill on arcade games, even though Grandma reminded me "not to spend it all in one place."


I don't save any of it. I don't even have a passbook savings account. Every dollar I make gets spent within a day.


Total 1994 Inflow: ≈$300


1997: I'm just waking up. It's noon, and I want to keep sleeping. I worked until 3 a.m. last night and have to work again in five hours for another 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift.


I enjoy working long hours. If I work 20 or more hours in two days, then it's really easy to get overtime. Overtime means more money. More hours means there is less time to spend my paycheck.


With each paycheck, I treat myself with some new toy that I never could afford before. With one paycheck I buy a stereo for my car. With another, I buy a stereo system for my home. There is always something I want to buy.


I still don't save anything, although I now have a checking account so I can pay bills, even though I often get overdraft fees, especially when I have too much time on my hands with which to spend. Instead of making sound money decisions, I find a way to trick myself into not being able to spend my money.


Total 1997 Inflow: ≈$20,000


2006: I'm working full-time in Minneapolis, MN. This is my first job that pays a salary, and it's nice to have consistent paychecks. I make more money than I have ever made before. Now that I feel like a "grown-up," it seems like I have to spend money on grown-up-type stuff. I don't feel comfortable in my old beater car anymore, because everyone I know drives newer vehicles. Most people I know live in nice apartments, so it seems to me I should be looking for a "better" place to live. Plus, I make money now; I like to spend it going out for drinks at happy hour with friends and coworkers. Socializing is what I'm supposed to do now.


I'm still don't save. I make a lot more money, but my lifestyle got a lot more expensive, too. Instead of cutting back on my lifestyle, I decide to do everything I can to try and get raises and promotions. That's better, I think, than trying to cut back on my lifestyle.



Total 2006 Inflow: ≈$37,000


My income kept increasing as I got older, but my money issues never went away. Even though some problems went away, I was introduced to new problems that I didn't even think existed before. Money problems and issues are pervasive; money issues are not caused by a lack of having money.



more money doesn't solve our problems

Money Scripts


Our financial behaviors are driven by our money scripts, which are our subconscious beliefs, thoughts, and rules that we have about money. We develop these based on what seemed to have worked and not worked in our past when we tried to figure out this thing called money. They are contextual, meaning the money rules we follow work on some instances, but they aren't universally true, and they certainly don't work in every situation.


Money scripts can work well within the framework we developed them. But, when our situations change, they don't always work. Even worse, they can harm us.


Money Worship


There are four categories in which money scripts fall. One category is money worship. People who hold onto strong money scripts in this category believe that if only they had more money, their lives would be better off.


Some specific money worship money scripts that are common are:

  • More money will make things better

  • I deserve to spend money

  • There will never be enough money

  • Money would solve all my problems


If people believe more money gives them the easy life, then it stands to reason that people who have money might think they shouldn't have money problems.

money worship belief

New Level, New Devil

There's an old saying that with a new level comes a new devil. Having more money will indeed solve some of the problems that exist for those with less than you. However, it also means there are issues that people with less than you don't have to worry about. Think about somebody who is climbing the socioeconomic status (SES) ladder. Each time she gets to a new level, there is a new problem or devil to deal with.


Have you heard about people using the phrase, "first-world problems"? This is, in a nutshell, what that means. To be clear, just because they are first-world doesn't mean they aren't real problems. There is little correlation between having money and having financial worries.

little correlation between money and financial worries

Financial Comfort Zone


We all have a range of wealth or income within which we are comfortable. This is called our financial comfort zone. The important takeaway here is that there is a maximum to your zone.


This applies mostly to those who have changed SES. If you move to a higher (or lower) SES, you quickly learn that there are new rules. In their book, Mind Over Money, Doctors Ted and Brad Klontz equate this to moving to a new neighborhood. In your old neighborhood, you knew the rules. In this new neighborhood, the rules are different. That's uncomfortable for most of us.


Not only is it uncomfortable because the rules have changed, but there is often an underlying sense that your friends and family from your old SES (particularly if you moved up in SES) will judge or resent you. As such, it's common for people to make financial decisions in the same way they did at their lower SES, trying to seem like they haven't changed or "sold out."


"Acting the Part"


Temptation can be very high to those who have moved up in SES. Along with the new rules and being pushed out of your comfort zone comes the expectation that you will increase your lifestyle to fit in with your new peers.