If you think you’re bad with money because you’re stupid, lazy or greedy – think again.
For many of us, there are deep-rooted, emotional reasons for our dysfunctional relationship with cash – whether based on lessons from our parents, or traumatic experiences in our youth.
US financial psychologists Ted Klontz and his son Brad Klontz have made a career of studying and analysing what they call our money “scripts”.
Here are six kinds of behaviour you’ll probably recognise in yourself or others.
1. Buying more expensive stuff than the people around you. Without even realising it, you might have a “money status” script, believing that your net worth elevates your social status and your self worth. Instead, you just end up broke and unhappy with a lot of flashy things.
2. Giving away money even if you can’t afford it. This is classic “avoider” script behaviour: having money means you’re greedy or evil, and giving it away to friends or family (even if you’re resentful about it afterwards) means you’ve got less cash in your control.
3. Taking risks with your money, trying to get rich quick. Deep down you believe that money will solve all your problems and make you happy, (so the “money worship” theory goes). You’ll take any risk to get rich, even gambling or investing in “too-good-to-be-true” deals. And we know how that goes.
4. Not telling your spouse about what you spend. Do you feel shame around money? Are you secretive about how much you have and what you spend it on? You might be in the “money vigilance” group; the danger is you always feel anxious about money, you never enjoy the fruits of your labours and you’re not building wealth like you should.
5. Being a workaholic. You chase wealth through your job, believing that more money will make you and your family happier (“money worship” script again); yet research shows it will only distance you from the people you love, while adversely affecting your health.
6. Not opening your credit card bills. You know that ignoring mounting debt is not sensible, but you just can’t face up to it. For “avoiders”, money is a source of anxiety or fear, or sometimes disgust. The key here is to think of money like this honest writer tried to do – not as something inherently evil, but as a practical tool to a better life.
The first step on the road to recovery is to become aware of your beliefs. To analyse yourself in more detail, try this Money Disorder Assessment quiz, developed by the Klontzes.
A financial planner could be useful in helping you change habits, if they’ve studied this area – make sure you ask lots of questions before you engage one; there are also financial counsellors you can talk to; and if you think you need more intensive therapy, seek out a psychologist.