"Financial behaviors and money disorders make perfect sense when one can understand the Money Scripts that drive them."
-Ted Klontz and Brad Klontz, Mind Over Money
Mary and Frank's kids close their bedroom door and hide their heads under their pillows. Mary and Frank are in the middle of a vicious fight about money. Mary just discovered that Frank has been spending money without telling her. She asked him about it, and Frank went berserk. Voices were raised, and their kids ran upstairs crying.
Growing up, Mary's parents sat down and talked about money as a family regularly. The topic of the conversation changed depending on how old she was, but they were open and honest about money and how it worked in their household. Mary grew up with a good grasp of how money works. She developed beliefs that both saving money and talking about money are important.
When Frank was growing up, money was a taboo topic. The only time he remembers money being discussed was during a fight between his parents. He remembers getting yelled at and grounded for asking his friend's dad how much money he made. Frank's logical conclusion is that talking about money leads to fighting and other negative consequences.
Frank's spending money without talking to his wife makes sense when we consider his belief that you don't talk about money. Mary getting upset upon learning about Frank's behavior makes sense when we consider her belief that it's important to talk about money. In this case, Frank's belief that talking about money leads to fights is being reinforced. His core belief consistently leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. He thinks it's true, so it turns out to be true.
All of our financial behaviors make sense when we can understand the belief that drives them. Those beliefs are called Money Scripts.
About Money Scripts
Money Scripts are internalized beliefs that we have about money. They are like little rules that we follow without knowing that we follow them. You can think of a script as a script for a movie or a play. Actors have to recite from the script without adding anything to it. You can also think of a script like a computer script, or computer program. When the computer script starts, it runs through the code automatically.
Your brain writes these scripts for you to operate on. This is done with the best of intentions. All of your financial behaviors are driven by your underlying Money Scripts. All financial behavior makes sense once you understand the Money Scripts that drive those behaviors.
We have Money Scripts to act as guides when we make financial decisions. The problem is that they are not always helpful. At best, Money Scripts are partial truths about how the world works. They work in some situations, but not in every situation. Your Money Scripts might work very well for you in one situation. However, if your situation changes, you might be operating with Money Scripts that no longer are helpful.
Our Money Scripts get reinforced. Every time we operate on a Money Script and the outcome matches our expectation, that particular Money Script becomes stronger.
Money Scripts operate outside of our conscious awareness. Unless we've done some work around our Money Scripts, we don't know that we have them. They simply run in the background unexamined, and we treat them as fact.
Suppose you have behaviors, thoughts, or feelings around money that don't make sense to you logically. In that case, it's likely because there is a Money Script behind those behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.
We rely on Money Scripts to guide us, so it is important to understand how they get written for us.
Money Script Development: Childhood
Our Money Scripts get written for us mostly in childhood. This is when we are trying to figure out how the world works. We piece together bits of information to try to make sense of everything. Our little minds are trying to create if/then statements. For example, if I save my money in a piggy bank, then I can buy something later. If I make money, then I can buy stuff. If my parents talk about money, they start screaming at each other.
Sometimes our Money Scripts are written due to direct lessons we receive. Some children get early lessons that you should always save your money. Others get lessons about how you should use your money. Still, others are given lessons directly about not talking about money. Direct lessons don't always come from our parents. They can come from anyone like teachers, culture, neighbors, or religious leaders.
Direct lessons aren't as common as we might hope. More commonly, our Money Scripts are written due to indirect lessons. Indirect lessons come from watching other people, including media or entertainment sources. We pick up lessons by watching what happens and copying what seems to work well.
We do all this while our minds aren't fully developed. We are likely to get some things wrong. Money is quite complicated and touches many areas of our lives, so it is not as simple as we think it is when we are young.
Even if we absorb every direct and indirect lesson correctly in the development of our Money Scripts, we still only have a sample size of one. We only see and experience our upbringing. We don't see and experience different people use, act, or communicate about money.
Money Script Development: Financial Flashpoints
The other way our Money Scripts get shaped is through financial flashpoints. Financial flashpoints are highly emotional experiences that we've gone through. Financial flashpoints are similar to trauma around money. Some financial flashpoints are more traumatic than others, but they all shape our Money Scripts. The more intense the flashpoint, the harder it will be to change that belief.
Financial flashpoints could be something as small as getting made fun of for wearing the wrong kind of clothes. If this event was significantly embarrassing, it would change your views on the appropriate type of clothing that you would buy going forward. In other words, the financial flashpoint event of being embarrassed might create a Money Script around only buying name brand clothes. Your brain quickly creates a rule intended to keep you out of that situation again. If you believe that wearing the wrong kind of clothes is what got you in that situation, then the Money Script is designed to keep you out of that situation again.
Some financial flashpoints can be major, like losing all of your savings in the stock market. Watching your savings dwindle down to nothing is stressful and scary. This flashpoint event might create a rule that stock market investing is too risky and you should never do it.
When our brains perceive a threat, we tend to go into a stress response; fight, flight, or freeze. When we are in a stress response, we are experiencing emotional discomfort. We don't like that. So our brains do what it has to do to get out of the situation. Either fighting, running away, or hiding is what gets us out of that situation at the moment. It also doesn't want to experience that situation again in the future. To help prevent that from happening again, it either creates a new Money Script or adjusts an existing one.
Common Money Scripts
It might help see some of the most common Money Scripts people can have. Below are several common Money Scripts. This is not every Money Script, of course, and they don't apply to everybody. They are simply some of the most common rules that we follow.
Things would be better if I had more money.
Money is bad.
I don't deserve money.
I deserve to spend money on myself.
There will never be enough money.
I will always have enough money.
Money is not important.
Money is what gives my life meaning.
You should never talk about money.
If you are a good person, you shouldn't care about money.
Money Script Categories
There is an infinite number of Money Scripts we can create for ourselves. A Money Script is simply a rule about money that we create and follow. Even though many different Money Scripts exist, they generally fall into four categories. Those categories are Money Avoidance, Money Worship, Money Status, and Money Vigilance.
Money Avoidance Money Scripts - these Money Scripts are based on some version of the belief that money is bad. Some think that rich people are evil. Some people think there's a virtue and living with less. And some people believe that money leads to corruption. The common thread in this category is that money should be avoided.
Money Worship Money Scripts - these money strips are based on some version of the belief that things will be better with more money. Some people believe that money is the ticket to happiness. Some believe that all their problems would be solved if they had more money. The core belief is that the pursuit of money will solve internal challenges.
Money Status Money Scripts - these Money Scripts are based on the belief that our self-worth is equal to our net worth. Unlike Money Worship Money Scripts, where we pursue money for internal reasons, Money Status Money Scripts are about pursuing money for external reasons, using money for status purposes. People with these beliefs want to show people how successful they are.
Money Vigilance Money Scripts - these Money Scripts are based on the belief that you need to be careful with your money. People with most of their Money Scripts falling into this category tend to be secretive about money and nervous if they don't have money saved.
Any single Money Script is not necessarily a problem, but if they tend to group into one of these categories, you may find yourself with self-limiting and self-destructive behaviors.
Understand Your Predominant Money Scripts
The fact that we have unconscious beliefs about money is not necessarily bad. In fact, it would be impossible to operate without them. Money Scripts are our beliefs about money, and we have to believe something.
Money scripts aren't good or bad, but they can be helpful or unhelpful in particular situations. If you have behaviors that you know aren't in your best interest, but you have a hard time changing those behaviors, it's helpful to find the Money Script or Money Scripts that are driving that behavior. Understanding your past helps you experience a better future. Uncovering your Money Scripts allows you to challenge and change any Money Scripts that are unhelpful.
If you want to start to understand your Money Scripts, you can use the form below. This will help you see if your Money Scripts tend to group into a particular category.
Once you understand not only that you have Money Scripts, but what your Money Scripts are, you will understand yourself better.
You only have one life. Live intentionally.
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Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences
Barrett, Lisa Feldman: How Emotions Are Made
Klontz, Brad, Rick Kahler, and Ted Klontz: Facilitating Financial Health
Klontz, Brad, Rick Kahler, and Ted Klontz: The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge
Lawson, Derek, Bradley T. Klontz, and Sonya L. Britt: "Money Scripts," in Financial Therapy
Manson, Mark: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
Miller, William R., and Stephen Rollnick: Motivational Interviewing
Wikipedia: Schema (psychology)
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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