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We all have one. A money script, that is. Money scripts are underlying behavioral principles that dictate money habits. You know, the ones that cause you to throw caution to the wind when strolling through Bed Bath & Beyond. Surely you needed the extra five kitchen gadgets, especially the one that juices lemons while catching the pits. Money scripts are also responsible for having feelings of jealousy and bitterness hijack your senses at the sight of a Porsche whizzing by.
Based on indelibly etched experiences of life that form each person’s money habits, individuals form impressions of the significance of money and how it affects their life. By absorbing messages from our environment, unconscious impressions about money form lifetime behaviors. Often learned from parents and social settings, a money script based on dysfunctional patterns may lead a person to develop extreme habits like overspending or underspending, running deep into debt, or being so miserly as to forgo basic necessities. While the money script remains hidden in the subconscious, the corresponding behaviors emerge on a daily basis, controlling a person’s actions without the individual understanding the reason for their habits.
Dr. Brad Klontz writes extensively for the Financial Planning Association. I consider him to be the Dr. Phil of financial planning. He applies his psychological expertise to the field of financial planning. And, very effectively. In The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge, Dr. Klontz explains Scrooge’s underlying money scripts and how they have defined his life. We all know Scrooge: grumpy, uncaring, ungiving, and famous for the crabby catch-phrase “Bah! Humbug!” He has a deep-seated belief that no one can be trusted and money should not be wasted on oneself or others. The behaviors are manifested so deeply that he treats his employees poorly and withholds basic necessities for himself. It would cramp his style to allow his employee extra coal for the fire or allow himself an extra candle in his own home. My favorite quote from the book is, “Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” It seems perfectly logical to him until the ghosts show him how he looks to the world.
Not all money scripts are bad. The ones that result in less financial stress and balanced debt levels are good money scripts. Similarly, financial satisfaction, contentment with possessions, and avoiding deprivation of basic necessities also reflect healthy money scripts.
If you’re not sure how deeply a money script impacts an adult life, read Samantha Irby’s May 20 article, If Every Day Is a Rainy Day, What Am I Saving For?, in the Sunday Review of The New York Times. In a poignant narrative, the author recounts her life spent in poverty but in close enough proximity to the middle class to cultivate feelings of deprivation. Her experiences were so jarring that, as an adult, they cause her to spend with wicked abandon, while asking herself: How many lipsticks is too many? However, while admitting her lack of financial literacy, she shuns learning.
Her money script is alive and kicking. The conflicting forces of knowing what she should be doing, i.e., saving, investing, and compulsively fulfilling her childhood desires are constantly clashing. Because she lacks the ability to disengage from the early years of financial trauma, this mental loop will continue to play out until she deals with it head on. When I read the piece, I see the dysfunctional relationship between money and happiness. Although delivered with the conceding humor of an addict, her adult behavior is diminishing any possibility of financial security.
Ms. Irby’s pattern will preclude her from ever experiencing a shred of financial contentment. Remember: it’s not what you make, it’s what you spend.