Your Unconscious Money Beliefs: Money Scripts®

It’s hard to believe but my children are all adults now. I asked one daughter recently what she learned about money from being raised in our household. She came back with an answer very quickly: “Don’t spend money.” I was surprised.


I suppose I hoped that the answer would have something to do about spending money wisely. Or live within your means. Or anything that sounded a bit less obsessive about money. I have puzzled over my daughter’s answer, but I have to admit that there is more truth there than I had realized until then.


The Klontz Money Script Inventory

Brad Klontz holds credentials in psychology (PsyD) and financial planning (CFP). With Rick Kahler and Ted Klontz, he wrote Facilitating Financial Health, a textbook on the intersection of finance and clinical psychology, to provide tools to help people, or their financial advisors, to resolve problems and restore health attitudes and behaviours around money.


Among other things, Klontz developed the concept of money scripts, unconscious beliefs that support our particular behaviours around money. These unconscious beliefs are often formed during childhood. Sources of such beliefs are typically parents, but they can also come from other people in our lives, religious communities to which we belong, our particular circumstances, and/or society as a whole.


What money scripts do you carry around with you? Klontz suggests that a common one is that “Inherited wealth is bad.” Perhaps you’ve heard of the proverbial saying, “From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,” which means that wealth generated in the first generation will be lost by the third generation. One of the most famous American families that exemplified that proverb was the Vanderbilts.


Overt Money Scripts

Money scripts can be overt or covert. Overt scripts are statements we may have heard directly in a variety of contexts. Among them:


  • It’s better to give than to receive.
  • You’re lucky you have something to eat; think of all the starving children in Africa.
  • If you are a good person and do what’s right, the money will take care of itself.


Covert Money Scripts

Covert scripts are beliefs that we absorb through watching others, reading about the behaviours of influential and successful people, or observing the media’s portrayal of the rich and the poor.


As babies and small children, we learn through observation and imitation. This makes sense. We want to socialize our children so they can thrive in their communities. Note that this occurs largely at the subconscious level and includes our feelings and behaviours around money.


In your school years, did you notice the kids who did not wear trendy clothes? Were there classmates who had evident wealth versus those who did not? How were the wealthy kids viewed? What about those kids who were perceived as poorer?


Did your parents talk about money? Or was money never talked about? Or was money always a source of argument between your parents? What lessons do you think you learned from that behaviour?


Top Ten Money Scripts

Klontz’s research has led to the development of many different money scripts, but the top ten are listed below. Which sound right to you?


More Money Will Make Things Better

Have you set an arbitrary money target that you think will bring you happiness and security? “If I had a million dollars” to quote the Barenaked Ladies, perhaps? Beyond a certain threshold, though, once essential needs are taken care of, there is little evidence that more money correlates with greater happiness.


Money is Bad

Beliefs that support this money script include, “The rich are greedy”; “The rich take advantage of the poor,” etc. However, with such a script, people may find it difficult to save money for themselves for fear of becoming bad.


I Don’t Deserve Money

Perhaps you didn’t earn the money you have now, or you believe that using money for your personal enjoyment is to be completely avoided as long as others are less fortunate. People with low self-esteem often exemplify this script as do those in the helping professions.


I Deserve to Spend Money

This is partially true, but a balance needs to be reached. Often, however, this script excuses people to spend beyond their means.


There Will Never Be Enough Money

Even wealthy people live according to this script, As a result, they live in anxiety and fear. It drives some to become workaholics who sacrifice marriages, children, and health.


There Will Always Be Enough Money

This is a script often followed by those who were raised in wealthy homes, but it can be a script for those who lived on much less who were sustained by the belief that somehow, the “universe” will take care of them regardless of their actions.


Money is Unimportant

Klontz sees this script often arising from certain societal or religious tenets. As the Beatles sang, “Money Can’t Buy Me Love.” Nor can it buy happiness or belonging. However, this script allows people to rationalize poor financial planning or an utter lack of concern about financial matters.


Money Will Give Me Meaning

Given the way our society so often measures success in financial terms, this is a very common script. If you’ve grown up with little, money may be seen as the tool to bring you respect and belonging.


It’s Not Nice (or Necessary) to Talk About Money

My job is to talk about money. More importantly, my job is to ask my clients to talk about their money. Fortunately, those who become my clients are able to do this. At the risk of self-aggrandizement, just as physicians cannot help their patients unless the patients are open and forthcoming with their health situations, financial planners cannot practise their profession without their clients sharing their financial details, which, I am told is more difficult for many to do than to reveal details about their sexual lives.


If You Are Good, the Universe Will Supply Your Needs

I’m going to quote straight from the book: “This belief is especially common for those in the helping professions or with strong religious backgrounds. They believe that if they do all the right things for all the right reasons, then they won’t have to worry about the future because the ‘good karma’ will guarantee that good things will happen.”


Four Money Script Categories

For the last decade, Klontz has been administering his Money Script Inventory to thousands of subjects. He has identified four distinct money script patterns.


Money Avoidance

Money avoidance scripts are based on the belief that money is bad and anxiety-provoking and rich people are greedy.


Money Worship

Money worship scripts include beliefs such as, “Things would get better if I had more money,” “More money will make you happier,” and “Money will solve all of my problems.”


Money Status

Money status scripts equate net worth with their self-worth. They include beliefs such as, “People are only as successful as the amount of money they earn,” or “If something is not considered the ‘best,’ it is not worth buying.”


Money Vigilance

Money vigilance scripts represent a combination of vigilance and discretion around money. They include beliefs such as “You should not tell others how much money you have or make,” “Money should be saved not spent,” and “I would be a nervous wreck if I did not have money saved for an emergency.”


Find Out Your Money Script Now

I have recently encouraged all my clients to go through the Klontz Money Script Inventory. I invite you to do the same. You need to provide some information, including an email address as that is how your results are delivered to you, but it is available online at no cost and none of my clients have been contacted by Klontz or any of his colleagues. Find out your money script here.


This is the 118th blog post for Russ Writes.


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Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for general information and discussion purposes only. It should not be relied upon for investment, insurance, tax, or legal decisions.


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