What’s My Money Personality?

How mysterious “money scripts” create our financial belief system - and stop us getting what we want

What is your money type?

You may not know it, but your behavior with money is being dictated by a secret script that tells you what to do. At least that’s the theory underpinning psychologists Brad Klontz and Ted Klontz’s notion of financial personality types.

These two academics, the authors of Mind Over Money, have studied people’s attitudes to spending, saving and investing money and identified four basic groups:

  • those who idolize money, seeing as an almost mythical key to everlasting happiness;

  • those who go after it doggedly as a status tool;

  • those who are careful and sensible with their funds;

  • and those who ignore it completely.

Does one of these sound like you? And what can we do about it?

Well, the good news is that our financial personality type is not set in stone. As with any unhelpful behavior, the first step on the road to changing our ways is to recognize and accept they way we are behaving now. Do you avoid opening letters from the bank? It’s ok, plenty of people do. But if you can own that behavior (or own up to it, as we used to say), you’ll take some of the shame out of it and see it as just a systemic glitch in the way you run things. A glitch that can be fixed.

One thing that helps, when challenging our behaviours, is to focus on why we want to change. With money, it’s never that you’re a “bad person” or “being stupid” – the reason you want to change is simply to have a decent financial future! It’s purely practical. Not emotional or ethical. So identify your goals and take a look at the “script” that is stopping you from achieving them. It’s so much easier to make changes once you see your ways as just glitches in a computer program rather than ingrained, essential faults in you as a person.

Where do these “glitches” come from anyway?

To identify the origin of your money script - glitches and all - it’s helpful to go way back in time to your childhood. So get on the couch and start thinking about your mother… Now, most of us had no formal finance education. In fact it’s probably safe to say that none of us has. It’s just not something they teach us at school. So where do we learn about money? That’s right, from our parents. And where did our parents learn about it? From theirs. And so on and so on. In other words, we inherit generations of “knowledge” about the meaning of money from a bunch of unqualified and probably anxious, struggling adults who try to shield us and maybe even themselves from the truth about the family’s financial situation.

In most families, if there was a man in the house, it was he who dealt with the finances. He earned the money, he paid the bills and decided whether or not big purchases like holidays or new cars could happen. He most likely lay awake at night worrying about pensions, retirement and his kids’ futures too. Even if it was the mother who took on this role, for example in one-parent families, she would have have typically tried to avoid bringing her children in to the conversation about money. Sure, we all grew up with a sense of whether we were rich or poor, but that’s about as far as it went for most of us.

Subconsciously, however, we were taking in a whole lot more information. We will have absorbed, from a very young age, our parents’ attitudes to money. Did they yearn for more? Did they despise the effect it had on people and society? Did they sacrifice family time to get amass wealth? Did they hide cash under the bed because they didn’t trust banks? Was spending or saving tied up with self-worth?

All these things and more wrote the money script for us before we even had a piggy bank of our own. And they are all still swirling around in our adult minds now, every time a letter from the bank drops on to the doormat. They dictate whether you rush to open that letter or let it fall down behind the hall table.

And it’s not just about saving and investing. Our attitude to spending is deeply rooted in our histories too. If we had a mum who secretly bought expensive treats and said “don’t tell your father”, that’s a deeply loaded emotional message we will carry through life. On the flip-side, as Klontz and Klontz point out, if we are socialized to be overly concerned with scrimping and saving, we may never learn to enjoy the fruits of our labour.

So is it possible to achieve a happy medium? Yes! Of course. Once you accept that you haven’t been acting with as much free will as it seemed when it comes to money, you should feel freer to change the script without blaming yourself or judging your habits too harshly. It’s just like any other part of our lifestyle that we have to tweak and customise as we get older. Like food, for example, or exercise or mental health. It takes a good few years – decades sometimes – of adult living before we can identify those things from our childhood that no longer work for us. After all, just because you grew up eating mostly fried carbs and going to church five times a week doesn’t mean that’s what’s right for you now. But nor does rejecting those habits mean you disrespect or blame your parents. They were doing what worked for them, and now it’s your turn. It’s just about growing up into the healthiest, most independent woman you can be. And changing your money script is a vital foundation for change.

So take an honest look at what money means to you. Identify where those values came from and how they are keeping you from reaching your financial goals; and change the script until it sounds like your voice.