Understanding Money Scripts


"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.


money scripts are beliefs we have about money that drive all our behavior

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 scripts are the result of all your past experiences

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 scripts are developed in childhood

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.


financial flashpoints shape our money scripts

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 Sc