I’m trying to get to the root of money behaviors. This topic is becoming an annoying bug buzzing around the inside of my head. Because I spend so much time reading and researching money issues, it’s outside of my faculties to conceive that others don’t make responsible money decisions. I am constantly reading that more than 50% of pre-retirement workers have little or nothing saved for retirement, and I can’t wrap my mind around it.
Money scripts, just like any other psychological scripts, are clearly the driver, but it’s also about education, or the willingness to learn. Most adults are struggling to manage their finances, and many concede that they don’t know the basics. For young adults, there’s no formal education for personal finance, and high school graduates have no idea what to do regarding self-support. College graduates are burdened with student loans without any idea how they’re going to manage the payments. Many don’t know how to anticipate real-life expenses and get quickly overwhelmed. They get blindsided by the multitude of costs, using credit cards to pay for necessities, and enter the danger zone of perpetual debt.
By not knowing the first step, or knowing how to manage all the pieces that make up a comprehensive, effective financial playbook, individuals retreat into ignorance. That’s never good. Those that choose not to address their financial issues too often find that eventually their money issues are running them, not the other way around. Credit that’s not managed properly, spending money that one does not have, letting emotions control money decisions. These are just a few. Some money issues are so extreme that they upend a person’s life, leaving the individual with lifelong debt or substantial losses of savings.
In conjunction with education, the money script of the individual deserves acknowledgement. If you’ve read any of my previous material, I’m a huge fan of Dr. Brad Klontz, the psychologist responsible for coining the phrase. All the education in the world will get thrown to the wind if the person possesses a destructive money script. The money script will collide with the education, and will win in the end. That’s because the money script is generated from subconscious beliefs. The person may not even realize they’re displaying certain behaviors. The human brain works that way, it’s part of survival. We learn things that work for us and there’s always a payoff for doing what we do.
I intend to be a teacher of the elements that result in a sound financial setting. Once the elements are part of everyday awareness, it becomes easier to process the combination working together. Starting out may not be easy, but a strong goal with small rewards along the way will result in an increase in quality of life and overall contentment. By chipping away at understanding one aspect at a time, it all comes together. The sum is truly greater than the parts and financial harmony can materialize.
Money decisions are controlled by money beliefs. The financial mindset, or money script, is responsible for what goes right or wrong in a person’s money life. Because money scripts propel actions, they deserve acknowledgment and recognition. Money scripts are based on unconscious beliefs and can be tough to uncover; it requires deep thinking and self-reflection to jiggle these views from the brain tunnels where they’re nestled. Some are good, some are bad. Everyone thinks they are right in their own head, therefore, recognizing false beliefs and irrational judgments calls for a mature attitude adjustment.
Ideally, money behavior must fit the environment of the individual. When the actions don’t fit the scenario, chaos ensues. For example, someone needs to save up to move into their own apartment because their parents are selling their home and they must make arrangements for their own residence. Instead of saving, they continue to spend irrationally. That individual’s actions are not in accord with their needs. They continue to blow all their money instead of saving to cover a basic need (shelter). Similarly, someone that wants a new home or a new car fails to save, despite their frustration.
Because their money scripts are so deeply embedded, they will continue to trigger detrimental behavior even if the results are disastrous. Unfortunately, the victim of their own behavior doesn’t see their role in the movie. Others are blamed for the circumstances without a clue as to how to apply alternatives or initiate another possibility. The key is to find a script that fits the stage of the person living it.
The Origin of Money Scripts
Guess where these money scripts come from? You can blame this on your parents. Some money scripts are passed down as a legacy, from one generation to the one that follows. By hearing your mom lament that another neighbor just bought new appliances or a new car, you picked up the message that when others have something new and shiny, it’s a cause for contempt.
Reflexive behavior springs from the subconscious, where witnessed events are etched into memory. It’s the learned scenario of what seems right, but may often be irrational.
Another strong message that’s delivered is when deprivation of toys, candy, or bicycles has occurred. Especially when a friend has something and you didn’t get it.
Some messages make their way in by virtue of environment. Humans are walking satellite dishes, picking up vibes, learning what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. In the tribe mentality, we conform to the group. If the group reveres a family that’s known as “rich”, then others will adopt that point of view. Similarly, social stigma typically attaches to those that are considered poor.
Early Money Messages
Everyone has a money script. They live out their money script on a daily basis without even realizing it. Because the individual rationalizes their train of thought, they don’t recognize the fictitious belief system.
“We can’t afford that.”
“Stop asking for things that you can’t have.”
“You have plenty.”
“Only rich people can do that, we’re not rich.”
“You can’t have it!”
Extreme money habits stem from leftover soundtracks of such early programming. When these messages get delivered, it could create an impression of lack and deprivation, or worse, that the person is not deserving.
Strong messages eventually stunt an individual’s growth, earning potential, and ability to make responsible decisions. Where this leads down a dark path is when destructive money scripts control a person’s behavior. Extreme, compulsive money habits typically follow.
Traumatic experiences that have a financial impact can be the most scarring. A job loss, a divorce, and abandonment can have profound monetary consequences. Some families go from comfort to poverty in a very short time. The memories from a benchmark event are indelible and can control the person’s actions for the remainder of their life.
Extreme behaviors result in self-deprivation, hoarding, or erratic spending. The fear of spending money causes some to surround themselves with broken or unusable items. The excessive spending results in unused items and credit problems. Just like an addict’s high, the temporary pleasure fades, leaving an empty feeling accompanied by the fixation for the next splurge.
These messages are alive and well, materializing into many different settings.
Conversely, the opposite response sometimes emerges. Someone that is subjected to poverty as a child may fight and claw their way out of every situation to avoid a financial emergency. Someone whose parents may have told them they’re not deserving or worthy of money may make it their life goal to prove their parents wrong.
Here are some real-life situations. I’m sure everyone has their own stories.
A young male took his cues from his dad, who had great contempt for “the rich”. This young man was very talented at his craft, but couldn’t figure out how to monetize his talent. He was constantly in debt, even though he made a decent salary. Yet, he scoffed at any suggestions to save money to lay out a future for himself. I wondered who “the rich” were. Who was this group of people that they garnered such disdain for? They were never named, but were surely to blame for every bit of lack experienced by this family.
One of my co-workers remembered her father telling her that girls don’t go to college. She worked in an administrative position when she clearly had the ability to earn more. Without a college degree, her earning potential was cut short of a much higher salary. When her group left the firm, she lost her job and didn’t have the marketable skills and resume to get hired easily. She was clearly acting upon the messages that she previously received, and was working well below her potential. That’s how it plays out.
I have a few of my own.
My earliest memories were that my family was comfortable. We lived in a nice, suburban house and had everything we needed. In my early teens, things changed, and my parents gave the impression that we were always on our last nickel. When my parents got divorced, my mother played the poor abandoned single mom. Our comfort level went south as we moved from a big home into a small apartment. Our large furniture looked ridiculous in an unfamiliar tiny living room. The limited floor space meant that some matching pieces didn’t make the cut. The whole setup was as incompatible as our relationships with each other. I shared a room with my sister separated by a makeshift room divider and my mother slept on the living room couch. We moved again after that. Even though it was in the same town and I went to the same school, it was unnerving.
As the family drama unfolded, I moved five times in seven years. With each move, I lost a little bit of permanence. This skewed my sense of security and I realize that I’ve constantly set out to maintain stability. I accumulated a financial safety net early in my adulthood to make sure that I relied on no one but myself. Because of my leftover frustration level, I now make sure that I have choices to structure my life the way I want to and live on my terms.
I also have a thing about dressing neatly and wearing clothes that fit well. I have to be careful that I don’t overspend on clothing. If you saw my closet, you would think that I have way too much for one person and I admit that my wardrobe is amply stocked. Before business casual, or permission to wear your bathrobe to work, I had a ready rotation of three weeks’ worth of work outfits. My shoes are a whole other fetish.
This behavior is directly tied to my childhood when my mother didn’t care how I looked. She would buy low quality garments and wasn’t concerned if they fit me well or not. During my teenage years, when I actually grew a few inches, she was annoyed at how quickly I outgrew some pieces. She wanted them to last for a few years, at least. With no younger siblings, my mother saw that she wasn’t able to stretch that money as far as she thought. From then on, she started buying things one size too big. If I asked for clothes, she would scream at me, “You have so much s*** up there!” When I asked for clothes for my birthday, she would tell my aunts and relatives to buy a much bigger size than I actually wore. Those pieces sat in my drawer, limiting my wardrobe to one or two outfits, which quickly wore out. I was thirteen, an age where appearance becomes a cause for ridicule. Imagine how ridiculous I looked in pants that were too baggy because my mother wouldn’t buy the size that fit me. Further into my teens, she stopped buying me clothes altogether, so there began my preoccupation with my wardrobe. My clothing deprivation has been alive and well since the day I started a part-time job at age sixteen. My first purchase was a pair of white designer jeans. I don’t go crazy with overpriced labels and luxury department store brands, but those deficiency memories are burned so deeply in my brain it’s as if it happened yesterday.
If nothing else depicts my money screenplay, it is clearly evident in my choice of career. I’m an accountant. When people ask why I chose accounting, the answer that pops into my head is, “Because I knew I’d always have a job.” The first time I answered the question, I wasn’t even aware that that was the reason. I chose accounting when I was in high school and felt that accounting was a good connection to business, my impression dictating that businesses will always exist.
Linking an accounting career to job security is a testament to my need for financial security. I come from a family of hard workers. No one was ever on unemployment – that was a sin in my family, the ultimate embarrassment. I never had a bad feeling about being employed and working hard. In fact, the day I received my own paycheck was a life-altering experience. I was addicted to earning my own money. Lucky for me, I live outside of New York City, which to me is the capital of the financial world. I was enabled by my environment to live out my intentions.
All the previous experiences and the messages filtering through the backdrop of my life explain every move I’ve made. You could say that this is all unresolved trauma that must be dealt with. Trust me, I have a solid sense of awareness and know how to tame the clothing monster. As mentioned, my need for autonomous security and ability to make choices offsets the voices of the Spending Gnomes.
I wouldn’t be a good financial planner if I didn’t take time to address my own money behavior. While I confess to my own inner dialogue, I also know that I am doing things right. See my previous post on how to recognize financial well-being.
Financial satisfaction means I have done all the right things to create and maintain my financial well-being. Instead of the constant noise of money conflicts, my money stress is reduced to a low hum. I can weather an emergency without having to dodge another payment. I have executed all the right moves in my plan. I stand on solid ground hopping over small amounts of debt that don’t interfere with my needs. I can stare down my money outlook with confidence that I will have a comfortable retirement.
Related post: How Money Plays a Role in Our Lives