Money is a complicated topic. It is often very obvious what a person must do to improve their financial situation, but getting someone to change their financial habits and attitudes is hard. Good financial advice seems to go in one ear and out the other as clients continue to repeat the same destructive patterns over and over again.
At a core level, we generally know when we are behaving badly. An alcoholic is aware that they drink too much. An obese person knows they need to eat a healthier diet. A gambler knows they cannot win back their losses at a slot machine.
Money disorders share this problem, but what makes them even more challenging is that a person may not even be aware that they have a disorder. Instead, those who suffer from money disorders may actually think they are making wise money choices and they are at a loss to explain why things do not go well or they blame others for their failures.
Professor Brad Klontz has written a great deal about the psychological aspect of money behavior, including a book I recently read entitled Mind Over Money, Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health.
According to Klontz, adult money behaviors are generally learned in childhood and they are often related to a traumatic event or “financial flashpoint.” Conclusions formed by a child experiencing an emotional event involving money tends to flow over into their adult life. These early emotional money experiences create a “money script” that are played out repetitively in our adult life, both good and bad.
In our experience, financial pathology typically manifests itself in one of three ways. We might repeat destructive financial patterns learned from our early socialization . . . We might also flee to the polar opposites of those patterns in an attempt to avoid repeating the experiences . . . Or we might alternate between those two extremes”
Everyone acquires a Money Script during their childhood that they put into play as an adult. Such internalized money scripts become part of our personality and shape the way we view the world. Parents have a lot to do with shaping a child’s view towards money and the money scripts that play in their heads as they grow into adults.
There are may types of money scripts. Some view the spending of money as a way to express love, so to not spend money on others as they request is to deny them love. Some equate the acquisition of money as a sign of evil and greed so they give away all their money to stay pure and holy. Others view the spending of money as dangerous and they save every penny they earn while they wait for financial disasters to jump out of nowhere. Many spend money publicly to show their success to others and derive a sense of self-worth in the process.
But if you are not aware of what money scripts you are running, how can you determine if they are correct? Is spending money on your child the same thing as showing love? Is not spending money on your child a way to show dislike or disapproval? Obviously one can refuse to spend money on a child if more important items–like paying rent or utilities–need to be paid first, but that doesn’t mean you don’t love your child. But in the mind of many, such refusals mean just that, and so they take care of the child’s wants first and then scramble to pay the rent.
The beginning point in financial therapy is to review the financial history of your family and then to write down some of the spoken and unspoken money rules leaned in childhood. Does saving money really mean your greedy? Does spending money really show love? Are the money scripts in your head really the right kinds of rules to have? Who is in control of your money, the little child whose parents were less than terrific with money or the adult you have grown to be? For most of us, the child still rules. Maybe it is time for the adult to update the rules.