Each of us has a set of unconscious beliefs about money, or “money scripts.” These beliefs, commonly formed in childhood, shape our financial choices in adulthood. Money scripts are partial truths, but one of the reasons they cause problems in our lives is that we unwittingly act on them as if they are completely true.
In our book Wired for Wealth (HCI, 2008), Dr. Brad Klontz, Dr. Ted Klontz, and I include a “Top Ten” list of the most common money scripts. These are:
1. More Money Will Make Things Better. Many of us assume more money will bring us security, happiness, meaning, or whatever else we seek. There is some truth in this money script. For those on limited incomes, more money would indeed make things better. Research shows, however, that once we are able to comfortably take care of our needs, happiness is not related to the amount of money we have.
2. Money is Bad. Like all money scripts, this has many variations, such as “The rich are shallow/greedy/unhappy.” Anyone with this belief is likely to unwittingly sabotage any potential financial progress. After all, if we believe money is bad, it is perfectly logical to unconsciously try not to have any.
3. I Don’t Deserve Money. This money script is common in the helping professions and may also be held by those who inherit or otherwise receive money they don’t see as their own. It may reflect a belief that it’s wrong to enjoy money, because others are less fortunate. It can lead to under-earning and to ill-advised financial decisions.
4. I Deserve to Spend Money. Certainly, one aspect of financial balance is believing we deserve to spend money on ourselves, those close to us, and those less fortunate. However, this script can undermine our financial health when it is used as a rationale for overspending.
5. There Will Never Be Enough Money. The miser Ebenezer Scrooge is a classic example of this money script at its most extreme. When we believe there will never be enough money, we set ourselves up to live a life of deprivation and to experience constant anxiety, insecurity, and fear.
6. There Will Always Be Enough Money. This money script drives the behaviors of many people who grew up in wealthy families and those who have always been taken care of financially by someone else.
7. Money Is Unimportant. This money script is common for those in helping professions, creative artists, and those with religious beliefs that poverty is virtuous. While it acknowledges that wealth doesn’t bring happiness, it also can be used to excuse poor financial planning and money management.
8. Money Will Give Me Meaning. This belief may result from growing up in poverty and seeing money as a magic tool that can open doors to belonging or being treated with respect. It can also be tied to a belief that money is the primary measure of success.
9. It’s Not Nice (or Necessary) To Talk About Money. This script is common in our culture. Despite ample information about earning and managing money, talking about money and our relationship to it is one of our biggest taboos.
10. If You Are Good, The Universe Will Supply All your Needs. This belief is especially common for those in the helping professions or with strong religious backgrounds. It can serve as an excuse not to learn about money or plan for the future.
This list may serve as a starting point for identifying your own money scripts. Knowing those scripts is a useful first step toward a more balanced relationship with money.