How unconscious money beliefs sabotage your success

By Garrett

Sep 27, 2017

Why is it that certain people aren’t able to escape the pattern of overspending, struggling to budget, or always falling back into credit card debt?

It’s not for a lack of trying. Often, people who devour personal finance blogs, have tried Mint and YNAB and the Envelope system, even gone through Dave Ramsey’s program–they share with me that nothing has worked. If it were only about effort, they would have been success stories long ago.

Any chance you’re shaking your head, thinking “damn…that’s me”?

In the last newsletter, we discussed the Importance of your Money Mindset, and how you can’t fix your finances without addressing mindset first. This week, we’ll dive deep and focus on the beliefs that form your money mindset–your money scripts. I’ll share what exactly money scripts are, some of the most common money scripts out there (odds are you yourself have at least one), and how they can work against you. Get ready to discover what your very own scripts are!


What Are Money Scripts?

Money scripts are unconscious beliefs developed around money that determine how you live your life. Stemming from experiences you had growing up which you internalized and ultimately came to believe were true about the world, these scripts have inherent power:

  • “Money is the root of all evil.”
  • “It’s better to save than to spend.”
  • “As long as I do the right thing, the money will take care of itself.”

When first exposed to these as a child, they often seem accurate based on circumstance and context. “It’s better to save than to spend” may have been told to you by your mother when your father lost his job and there wasn’t much money to go around. Perhaps the idea that “the money will take care of itself” was a message you heard from parents struggling to manage money but also never seemed to be without.

Though appearing to be true, these scripts are actually incomplete, inaccurate and only contain partial truths. Formed out of our childhood experiences, they’re often rooted in an incomplete view of the world and the immaturity of childhood beliefs–even if they helped you make sense of a complex and scary world at that time. Given their inherently simplistic view, odds are these scripts are no longer serving you well today [1].


Common Money Scripts

One of the easiest ways to determine a money script is if you find yourself thinking “that’s just the way it is.” If you think that “money is the root of all…”, or it’s “better to save than to spend,” then bingo! You just won the money script lottery.

Working with a multitude of clients, I’ve begun to see common threads in the money scripts surfacing in our work together. Raise your hand if any of these sound familiar:

“If I had more money things would be fine.”

This story gets you to believe “once I finally earn $xxx,000/yr., I’ll be able to live the life I want!” This script is grounded in the idea there is a magic salary or savings number that once you hit, everything will be great. The problem with this script is it absolves you of your responsibility in creating change. You rely on external events for your happiness/success (i.e. earning a certain salary or reaching a certain savings goal) rather than looking internally at what you can actually control and do right now. Truthfully, most people who end up making more money simply spend more money. There’s even a term for it: Scope Creep. Therefore, even if you hit your ideal earning/savings number, you’ll likely find yourself right back in the same situation because you never addressed the underlying problem of living beyond your means.

“It’s not all about the money.”

This is a common script in a helping profession or if you’re passionate about your work. Since you love what you do and would do it even if you weren’t getting paid, you feel like focusing on the money is somehow wrong. You allow yourself to rationalize a lack of planning or justify not keeping track of your money, because of the story that “money isn’t the most important thing.” Unfortunately, if you continue to follow this script, there likely won’t be much of it left either.

“Money doesn’t come easily.”

You believe you have to work hard in order to make money… this is a script. This has been a script I myself have been running for years and am still working through. I’ve always believed that the harder you work, the more results you’ll see. It was certainly true when I worked construction during college–the less effort I put into moving gravel, the less gravel was moved. Yet now that I run my own business and the context has changed, I’ve realized that script is no longer true. I used to work 10-12 hour days, yet didn’t see the results I thought would come with that much hard work. In the meantime, friends of mine who were working 30 hour weeks were making six figures. If I hadn’t learned to start letting go of this script, I could easily have worked myself into the ground.

Money scripts are so challenging because they are mostly subconscious–you don’t even realize that they determine how you view money and react to financial decisions. This keeps you stuck in patterns that don’t serve you and limit what you think your options are. For example, if you believe money doesn’t come easily or that you have to work hard to climb the corporate ladder, then you will always (subconsciously) put yourself in situations that play out and reinforce that story.


Uncovering Your Money Scripts

With an understanding of what money scripts are, how they’re formed, and a few of the most common examples, your next logical thought is probably “okay…so how the heck can I recognize my money scripts and do something about them?!”

The good news: money scripts aren’t set in stone. They can be identified, acknowledged, and changed.

The bad news: it’s a process and it takes time. As anyone who has worked with a therapist or coach well knows, self-work is a long journey. Progress is measured in years, not months.

The first step on this path is simply to start building awareness. Your goal right now is not to change or “fix” money scripts. First, you must become aware of the scripts you’re dealing with, and from that awareness you will come to see how you can begin to change the script.

I want to share an exercise that will help you begin to build that awareness. It’s short–it will only take 5-10 minutes–and it will start to reveal the unconscious stories you are hearing. As you start to recognize your scripts and see what you’re up against, you’ll be laying the foundation for actually making a change down the line.

Uncovering Your Money Scripts exercise

This is deep, challenging work. You’re coming face-to-face with beliefs you’ve held for years that seemed to help you make sense of the world. It’s vulnerable to bring them out into the open and identify them.

But–if you are ready to change your financial patterns and rewrite a new script for how your life looks moving forward–it is work that needs to be done.

Gareden of Eden

[1] Klontz, Brad Psy. D., and Kahler, Rick. Facilitating Financial Health. Natl Underwriters, 2016.

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