Why it’s important to know your “money script”

When it comes to money, even when we know the “right” thing to do, we don’t always do it. Learning how to make financially sound decisions doesn’t necessarily translate into actually making them. Something is standing in our way. It’s us.

Money is considered a taboo subject (hence, why John Hancock created their podcast, Friends Who Talk About Money), and it’s not only something we struggle to talk about with our friends and family, we can struggle to talk about it with ourselves (hence, why I chose to host John Hancock’s podcast and break this taboo)! But to be truly in command of our money, we need to understand our relationship with it. First comes the tough part: identifying our fears and insecurities, anxieties and frustrations. Where did they come from? How have they influenced us? Then, we examine our values: what kind of life do we want? What do we value? And how does money fit into all that? These answers are deeply personal.

In doing this kind of inner work, you may uncover that you’re holding on to certain beliefs that are no longer serving you. Or perhaps you’ve been operating under someone else’s definition of success, whether it was articulated explicitly, implied, or simply modeled. A way to parse what – and whose – beliefs you are carrying, is to dig into your “money scripts.”


Dr. Brad Klontz of The Financial Psychology Institute and Creighton University (and our expert from episode 9, “Better Late Than Never”), has spent years researching our unconscious beliefs around money, also known as money scripts. Originating in childhood, our money scripts, when left unchecked, can lead to financial self-sabotage and even money disorders such as overspending and compulsive buying, gambling, underspending and compulsive hoarding, workaholism, financial dependence, financial enabling, financial denial/rejection, and financial enmeshment.

Dr. Klontz has developed a Money Script Inventory (KMSI) designed to help you gain insight into your own money belief system. He has identified four core money scripts, each of them drivers of various financial behavior. Knowing your script is the best starting point for making changes and improving your overall financial health. Here are the four scripts with suggestions on how to keep them from getting in your way:

1. Money Avoidance: Those who are money avoiders, often believe that money is bad or that they don’t deserve it. They believe that wealthy people are greedy or corrupt and that there is virtue in living with less money. Because of their negative associations with money and wealth, money avoiders may sabotage their financial success and/or give money away in an unconscious effort to have as little as possible. Research has shown that money avoidance scripts can be associated with ignoring bank statements, increased risk of overspending, enabling others financially, financial dependence, hoarding, and having difficulty managing a budget.

Tip: Create a weekly ritual around reviewing your bank account. For example, light candles and drink some wine. 

2. Money Worship:  At their core, money worshipers are convinced that the key to happiness and the solution to all of their problems is to have more money. At the same time, they believe that one can never have enough money. Individuals who score highly in the area of money worship are more likely to have lower income, lower net worth, and carry credit card debt. They are also more likely to spend compulsively, hoard possessions, and put work ahead of family. They may give money to others even though they can’t afford it and are more likely to be financially dependent on others.

Tip: At the end of each day, list the things you’re grateful for that don’t relate to money.

3. Money Status: Money status seekers see net-worth and self-worth as synonymous. They may pretend to have more money than they do, and as a result, are at risk of overspending. They often believe that if they live a virtuous life, the universe will take care of their financial needs. They may have grown up in a household that prioritized the financial aspects of social standing. Research has shown that people with money status beliefs are at greater risk of overspending, gambling excessively, being financially dependent on others, and hiding expenditures from their spouses.

Tip: Practice breathing exercises to slow down before making a purchase, or allot a certain amount of time between your desire to buy and actually pulling the trigger

4. Money Vigilance: The money vigilant are alert, watchful, and concerned about their financial welfare. They believe it is important to save and for people to work for their money and not be given financial handouts. Research has found that higher money vigilance scores are positively associated with higher levels of financial health. The money vigilant are less likely to buy on credit. They also have a tendency to be somewhat anxious about their financial futures, inspiring them to save. While they have a tendency to be secretive about their financial status with others, they are less likely to keep financial secrets from their partners. While money vigilance encourages saving and frugality, excessive wariness or anxiety could keep someone from enjoying the benefits and sense of security that money can provide.

Tip: Add a line item to your budget that’s allocated to “fun,” however you define it.

Understanding and undoing negative money mindsets is a lifelong process. So is talking about money. Check out our podcast, Friends Who Talk About Money, to understand how other people are talking about money to understand their money scripts. And to find out your own, visit Your Mental Wealth Advisors.

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