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All of our financial behaviors, even the most self-defeating, self-destructive, illogical, “I should know better,” craziest ones make perfect sense when we discover the underlying “Money Script(s)” that drives them. These Money Scripts are at the core of all of our financial behaviors, both beneficial and problematic. They are the internalized and typically unconscious beliefs we have about what money is, what it is not, what it can or cannot do, the role we play in it, and the role it plays in our lives. Money Scripts are formed in childhood and are reinforced by our experiences throughout our lives, often appearing as self-fulfilling prophecies. Money Scripts will always influence our financial beliefs and behaviors and thus every aspect of our lives until we die. Then, amazingly, they will continue to affect those who knew us who are left behind. It is essential to identify and modify these erroneous Money Scripts if we are to reach our financial potential or change our self-defeating and self-destructive financial behaviors.

Every Money Script has an element of truth in it. Not the whole truth, mind you, but an element of truth. For example, while the script, “Flying is dangerous” is partially true, it is not the whole truth. Other parts of the truth are missing, such as, “Flying is safer than being a pedestrian in a major city”, “Flying is safer than riding a bicycle”, “Flying is safer than traveling by car”,. Money Scripts work the same way. While they represent a part of the truth about money, they typically do not represent the whole picture. Operating as if they are the complete and absolute truth, without regard to context, can be disastrous.

What follows are 10 of the most common Money Scripts that show up in our work with clients. If left unexamined and unchanged, these Money Scripts will contribute to some of the most common self-destructive and limiting financial behaviors that people experience.

1. More Money will Make Things Better

This is perhaps one of the most common Money Scripts afflicting Americans. The problem is, that when the arbitrary “more money” target is met, the peace, security, happiness, or whatever else we believe “more money” will give us never quite seems to show up. So we look for more. Like the carrot just out of the reach of the donkey, though we are running like crazy, we never quite get there. Entire lives, even generations of lives, can be dedicated to the pursuit of the fulfillment of this Money Script. The fact is, recent research suggests what so many people already intuitively know. There is no correlation between money and happiness beyond a household income of $50,000 per year, which happens to approximate the national average annual income in the U.S. In the past 100 years, affluence in the U.S. has exploded! However, there has been no significant change in our rates of depression and misery. Folks, more money, in and of itself, will NOT make things better. Unless you are living in poverty and cannot take care of your essential needs (e.g. food, clothing, shelter, etc.), happiness is NOT about the amount of money you have. There is a saying: “Wherever you go, there you are.” This certainly applies to your financial net worth. If you are miserable at your current income level, more likely than not, you will be miserable with more money!

2. Money is Bad

As with all money scripts, there are many variations to the “Money is Bad” money script. They include such beliefs as: “The rich are shallow/greedy/insensitive/unhappy; “The rich got that way by taking advantage of others”, “When money walks in the front door, love walks out the back door” and so on.. When we operate from this unconscious money script, we are very likely to unwittingly sabotage any potential financial progress. If having money, or being rich, makes us a bad person, or will make us an unhappy person, our cause our loved ones to become distant, why would we act to accumulate any? While the truth is that some wealthy people took advantage of others to become wealthy, others were just at the right place at the right time. Still others were willing to follow a dream, a passion, or a vision and it came true for them. There are people who are wealthy and unhappy. There are people who are wealthy and very happy. There are people who are wealthy and have extraordinarily intimate loving relationships. The point is that money is neither good nor bad in and of itself; it is our own relationship to it that will determine whether it turns out to be a good thing or a bad thing.

3. I Don’t Deserve Money

We see this money script in many people who have money they did not earn, or do not fully accept as their own. We see this also in people who believe that they should not enjoy what money can give them, because others are not so fortunate. Often the “I don’t deserve money” money script is associated with lower self-esteem, and keeps people emotionally and spiritually poor, despite any wealth they may have. This is also a predominant script for those who work in the helping professions. Those of us with this “Money Script” tend to be underemployed and/or make ill-advised financial decisions in an unconscious attempt to “get rid of what we don’t deserve”. It is a well established fact that individuals who experience “sudden money” events (e.g. lottery winners, life insurance settlements, a sale of property, sudden fame and fortune) are often back to their original level of financial existence within several years.

4. I Deserve to Spend Money

Like all money scripts, there is always at least a grain of truth in this one. In fact, we hope you believe that you deserve to spend money on yourself and those close to you. However, believing that you deserve something extravagant, or that you need to buy something out of your price range as a gift to others at the expense of saving for your future, can undermine you and your family’s financial health. A related Money Script is one that says, “I might as well enjoy the money while I have it, because if I don’t, someone will come along and take it from me”.

5. There Will Never Be Enough Money

Ebenezer Scrooge, when we first meet him in Dickens’ “The Christmas Carol,” is a classic example of where this money script can take someone. When we believe there will never be enough money, we set ourselves up to live a life of deprivation, experience constant anxiety, insecurity and fear. Workaholics, who sacrifice marriages, children and health, often operate from this money script. Those who grew up in poverty, or whose family experienced poverty in previous generations, can internalize this money script. While this belief might have served us by giving us drive, ambition and a solid work ethic, it is not the whole truth, and if left unexamined, will spoil any benefits we could receive from our hard work.

6. There Will Always Be Enough Money

This money script drives the behaviors of many who grew up in wealthy families, where wants, desires and activities were not restricted by a lack of money. This script could also have its origin in families that didn’t have much. In those families it may have seemed that things just showed up when they needed them. Still others may internalize this Money Script when they believe that others will take care of them. With this Money Script, an unconscious trust that the universe will always take care of us regardless of our actions or inactions is internalized. The problem arises when there is some kind of change in our universe related to our financial status. If we are not conscious of this Money Script, a change in our financial landscape, without changes in our beliefs and behaviors, can lead to financial disaster.

7. Money Is Unimportant

This money script can arise from an interpretation of certain social or religious tenets or from the Money Script that wealth does not bring happiness, love, and belonging. However, these Money Scripts allow us to rationalize poor financial planning, lack of concern about financial matters, lack of ambition and sometimes even laziness. The fact is that money does have importance. It is a valuable resource that is as important as other resources in our lives–such as time, careers, relationships and health.

8. Money Will Give Me Meaning

There is a saying: “You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.” Money cannot give you what it does not possess– meaning in life, happiness, fulfillment, peace, satisfying relationships, a sense of belonging, etc. It is true that money may help these things happen, but money cannot make them happen. Money is just a tool, like a hammer is to a carpenter. A hammer has the potential to create a meaningful structure, but it takes a skilled carpenter to put it to good, productive use. When used correctly, a hammer can build a home. When used correctly, money can build security, give you financial peace, allow you to help others, and support your life aspirations. But the hammer cannot do so without our being willing to learn and then use the skills necessary to allow it to be productive.

9. It’s Not Nice (or Necessary) To Talk About Money

This is a very common money script in our culture. While there are endless hours of TV and radio shows about money and countless books and magazines about money, in fact, talking about money and our relationship to it is one of our biggest taboos. We find it is easier for clients to talk about their sexual secrets than their money secrets! There is a saying among therapists that “you are as sick as your secrets.” If we apply this to money, then we must live in a terribly sick society. The subject of money–what we believe about it, how we relate to it, how we behave with it, the secrets we keep about our own behaviors with it–is in many ways, the biggest set of secrets in American life. The price we pay is that by not talking about money we restrict ourselves from learning, growing, and sharing our knowledge with our children. It is important to realize that our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors around money prove that, in the case of our children, the “Trickle- Down Economic Theory” works. Our children’s ideas, attitudes, beliefs, current and future behaviors and experiences with money are but mirrors of what they have observed from a distance and been taught by example. We have hundreds of summer camps in this country for children for developing their ballet, baseball, basketball, and music skills, knowing all the while that there is little chance that our sons and daughters will be able to make a living doing those things. Yet, there is only one summer camp we are aware of that teaches children the essentials about money, what it does, what it can do, what it can’t do, and how it all works (www.themoneycamp.com). What is the message we are sending our children about our relationship to money?

10. If You Are Good, The Universe Will Supply All your Needs

Dr. Ted Klontz, a founder of Klontz Kahler, identifies this as one of his own money scripts. He calls it his “twisted law of Karma”. He lived many years of his life believing that if he did the right things, for all the right reasons, then he didn’t have to worry about anything, including his retirement or his future because the “good karma” would guarantee that good things would happen. After all, doesn’t the Bible say not to worry, for if God cares for the sparrow, why should we worry about our needs? Again, while there is great spiritual and emotional value in doing good things for others and not worrying, it does not, by itself, guarantee a safe and secure future. Regardless of how “good” you are, your financial life will not take care of itself without effort on your part. We are surrounded by many good people who dedicated their lives to doing the right thing for others at the right time and for the right reasons. Even so, because of a lack of planning for their future, they find themselves struggling to heat their homes, feed themselves, and to afford to get the help and care they need and deserve. At first glance it would seem that the universe has not magically supplied all of their needs. Actually, the universe provides us opportunities, on a daily basis throughout our lives to help shape our own future. Some of these opportunities include things like budgeting and saving. If we fail to take advantage of these opportunities, it may seem as if the universe has failed us. Actually we have failed ourselves.

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  1. Diana says:

    wonderfully eye-opening information. Raised in an addictive “negative world view” home, as an only child, I became a substance abuse therapist to stop the fear and scarcity.. And I still couldn’t figure out “why” relationships and finances were wanting. Your book, Mind over Money” has answered so many of my life questions. Now to concentrate on the solution, and stop living as a victim in the problem. Working on Self Esteem and accepting a Positive World View are two starters. Does anyone else have any suggestions that I cannot yet understand?

  2. Peggy says:

    So glad I found this site. I plan on passing it along to others as well. I have been disabled for 14 years and almost immediately I began to learn of great deceptions that my husband was doing. Because I was so very sick, I trusted him to pay taxes, etc. But he took actions that are against my every belief, forging my name to access funds, not answering an IRS audit that snowballed from maybe a thousand dollars to over 50,000 bill. He used to tell me that our financial problems were my fault, but we have since seen the truth. He recently lost his job within two years of retirement, got another one at half the salary, I think he has spent most of his 401K, no savings, I do not even have access to life insurance policies which leads me to believe that he cashed them out too. I have lived past the expiration date the doctors stamped on my forehead but I am forced to sit and watch as he systematically chooses to destroy all that we had. I sit here with IV’s and oxygen tubes connected and wonder how I’ll be able to run the oxygen concentrator living in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere. It could have been so different, but our lives will now represent one of great sorrow. I wish people would truly look at their actions not only affecting themselves, but others as well.