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Money Scripts: Understanding Our Beliefs Toward Money

Mother teaches her young daughter about money

The word “money” can bring up negative emotions and feelings for many people. In fact, money is the most cited factor that negatively affects U.S. adults’ mental health.1 Therefore, it’s important for us to reflect on our relationship with money, which can impact our financial decisions and relationships.

Many of our subconscious beliefs and attitudes toward money are developed in early childhood from our parents, environment and socioeconomic status.2 For example, some children are taught that you should always save your money and try to not spend it. In other households, money is taboo and not discussed at all. Children may experience that when money is brought up it often leads to their parents arguing and creates tension.

“Financial flashpoints” also have a significant impact and are traumatic or emotional life events associated with money that drive our financial behaviors.3 For example, growing up in poverty and having uncertainty where your next meal would come from, having a parent lose their job and/or house, or parents getting divorced can make an impact on our financial beliefs as an adult.

Mental health professionals have studied the psychology of money and categorized these financial beliefs into several “money scripts.” There are four main money scripts: money avoidance, money worship, money status and money vigilance.4

This visual shows different beliefs associated with the four money scripts. Source: https://finmasters.com/money-scripts/

Money avoidance is the belief that money is bad or that you don’t deserve money. Individuals with this belief often experience feelings of fear, guilt, disgust or anxiety toward money. For some people, it may be difficult to accept gifts from others due to feelings of guilt. This negative association with money can create the belief that rich people are greedy.4

Money worship is the belief that money is associated with freedom and the solution to all their problems. It’s the viewpoint that the more money you have, the better your life will always be. Money worshippers often seek fulfillment from buying more stuff, which can result in compulsive spending habits and never feeling satisfied.4

Money status is the belief that self-worth is directly tied to net worth or financial status. There’s often a competitive nature to this belief, which can result in overspending to appear as being “better off” than others. Even though research has illustrated being too concerned about financial status has been associated with lower levels of well-being, increased anxiety, and unhappiness.4

Money vigilance is the belief that money should be saved, not spent. Individuals with this money script often experience excessive wariness or anxiety about their financial future, which often prevents them from enjoying the benefits and experiences money can provide. They tend to be discrete and private about their financial status and hold the beliefs that you should work hard to earn money and people shouldn’t be given “financial handouts.” 4

There are notable limitations to money scripts theory, just like other human-categorizing theories such as attachment theory and the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator. While there are only four main categories studied, humans are complex, and we don’t all fall into one “box” or belief system. However, this theory provides a great framework to start reflecting on your attitude toward money and why you hold certain subconscious beliefs. This reflection can help you begin to change any mindset that may not serve you well financially and/or emotionally.

If you choose to evaluate and reflect on your own money script beliefs, it’s important to practice mindfulness. Negative emotions such as shame, guilt and anxiety may come up during this process. Mindfulness is the concentrated effort to simply observe emotions rather than judging and reacting to them.5 These emotions can become a great learning experience for things holding us back that can later help us make better financial decisions.

Could you use some help with your finances and the way you view money? Creative Planning is here for you. Our wealth managers support you with custom strategies specifically designed to help achieve your financial goals. To learn more, schedule a call with a member of our team.

1) Gailey, A. (2023, May 8). More than half of Americans say money negatively impacts their mental health. Bankrate. https://www.bankrate.com/personal-finance/financial-wellness-survey/

(2) Marter, J. (2021, August 28). How your parents’ beliefs about money affect you. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-wealth/202108/how-your-parents-beliefs-about-money-affect-you

3) Klontz, Brad, Chaffin, C., & Klontz, T. (2022). Chapter 3: Money Scripts: Financial Flashpoints: Exploring a Client's Financial Background. In Psychology of Financial Planning: Practitioner’s Toolkit. essay, Wiley.

4) Klontz, B., Britt, S. L., Mentzer, J., & Klontz, T. (2011). Money beliefs and financial behaviors: Development of the KLONTZ Money Script Inventory. Journal of Financial Therapy, 2(1).

5) Psychology Today Staff (Ed.). (n.d.). Mindfulness. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/mindfulness

This commentary is provided for general information purposes only, should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice, and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. Past performance of any market results is no assurance of future performance. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources deemed reliable but is not guaranteed.


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