Your money scripts can have a profound impact on your financial wellness. They can affect how you spend, save, and think about money.
Knowing your money scripts helps you become aware of the beliefs that are driving your financial habits—good and bad. This self-awareness can empower you to write positive money scripts that can influence your financial success.
What is a money script?
The term “money script” was first coined in 2011 by financial psychologist Brad Klontz,1 whose studies revealed distinct money “belief patterns” or “scripts.” Klontz described these money scripts as “typically unconscious,” formed in childhood, and drivers of financial behaviors in adults.
Some examples of money scripts might be:
“Money is bad or evil.”
“Things will get better if I have more money.”
“Rich people are greedy.”
“It’s not nice to talk about money.”
“There is never enough money.”
“Money equals love.”
Seattle-based money coach Mikelann Valterra says money scripts “run on autopilot in the background, and people are mostly not aware of them.”
Valterra points out that people tend to reenact what they saw as children. Or, sometimes they rebel and do the opposite.
How money scripts are formed
ust hearing and watching those around you deal with finances isn’t enough to make a money script stick. For it to become part of your mental programming, Valterra says there has to be a strong emotion associated with it.
“It’s just the way the human brain works,” she says. “If you hear the same thing said enough and there’s a strong feeling around it—positive or negative—it becomes lodged in your memory and it becomes unconscious.”
An example of this is someone who grew up watching their parents fight about money.
“It’s really stressful for a kid because they don’t quite understand what’s going on,” Valterra says.
Children who witness this unhealthy dialogue around money may come to feel that money causes fights or pain. As they grow into adults, they may harbor this script, not remembering where it came from.
On the bright side of this, a child can also develop positive money scripts if healthy financial habits are modeled for them. For example, if parents talk honestly and openly about money, they can demonstrate the importance of communication and using money as a tool to reinforce values.
The four types of money scripts
Based on Klontz’s research, there are four types of money scripts that influence how people view and behave with money:1
1. Money avoidance: Money avoiders view money as a source of anxiety and disdain. They believe that money is “bad” and view wealthy people in a negative light. They also feel undeserving of money, which can lead to their sabotaging their own financial efforts.
2. Money worship: People with this type of script believe that money will solve all their problems and that it is the only source of happiness. They feel that there is never enough money, and this causes them to hoard things, overspend, or prioritize work and status over relationships.
3. Money status: Status-driven individuals may attach their self-worth to their net worth, believing that money and symbols of high status, such as designer brands, bring more power. They may be likely to indulge in risky financial behaviors, accumulate debt, and spend freely.
4. Money vigilance: This type of money script can be present with people who are frugal, live within their means, and prioritize saving. However, they may be prone to experiencing anxiety and never feeling financially secure.
How money scripts shape financial behavior
Money scripts can impact all aspects of people’s finances, such as their saving and spending habits or their income and net worth. Money scripts can even affect how people talk about money with others. Leaving negative money scripts unchecked can lead to unhealthy financial habits—so sometimes, scripts need to be modified.
According to Valterra, children who believed that money causes fights often become money avoiders as adults.
“[Money avoiders] don’t like to talk about money. If their partner wants to discuss their budget, they may easily get stressed out,” she says. “They become that 8-year-old hearing their parents fight, and they just want to get away from such conversations.”
Another example she provides is those who believe “money equals love.”
A person who was shown love with gifts as a child may have learned to see material goods as an expression of love. This may have caused them, as an adult, to become prone to overspending (per the “money worship” script).
“I have a lot of clients who say the only time they ever felt seen, heard, and accepted was around gift-giving occasions like the holidays,” Valterra says.
Changing money scripts
Ask yourself: Is this idea serving me and my finances? Is it reasonable? Is it true? As with any other old story people tell themselves, the first step to changing a money script is to bring awareness to it and question it.
Valterra asks her clients to create a “money autobiography,” where they do a deep dive into their early experiences and the beliefs of their parents and others that may have influenced them.
“We start out by looking at their first money memories,” she says. “I ask them to answer questions like, ‘What do I remember about how my mom handled money? How did my dad behave with money? Am I more like my mom or my dad?’”
Looking at your early experiences with money is the first step toward changing any self-limiting money scripts you may have. Once you understand what your money scripts are and where they came from, it’s easier to replace them with self-supporting scripts that lead to better financial habits and mental well-being.