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Types of Money Scripts and How to Deal With Each in a Client

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Money is a highly personal subject, and as an advisor, it’s your job to offer advice that speaks to your clients’ individual needs and goals. The money scripts clients adopt can influence the way that you approach that task. A client’s money script represents the internalized beliefs they have about money, which are often formed in childhood. Being able to identify a client’s money script can be integral in helping them create a realistic and achievable financial plan.

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Understanding Money Scripts

What is a money script? In simple terms, it’s how people feel and think about money. Money scripts encompass the various lessons someone learns about money and the unwritten code of rules they set for managing it.

The concept of money scripts was developed by Dr. Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist. Klontz characterizes money scripts as being typically unconscious, meaning people follow them without being aware that they’re doing so. These scripts are developed in childhood and often reflect trans-generational beliefs about money.

Understanding how money scripts work and how to identify them can be integral to what financial advisors do. When financial advisors or financial planners are able to recognize different money scripts and the potentially harmful behaviors or habits that may result from them, they’re better equipped to challenge or change them. That can result in more positive financial outcomes for their clients.

Four Types of Money Scripts

A couple working on changing the money scripts that affect their finances.

Klontz identifies four specific money scripts that can influence financial behavior. Each one has unique characteristics reflecting the core beliefs that drive the script. An important thing to note as an advisor is that clients may not fit into a single box; instead, they may demonstrate beliefs that align with multiple money scripts.

Money avoidance. This typically reflects a core belief that money is inherently bad, harmful or even evil. Clients who follow this money script may reject building wealth as a desirable goal or see wealthy people as being wrong or greedy.

The types of behaviors money avoidance can result in include:

  • Ignoring basic financial tasks, like keeping a budget or tracking expenses
  • Saving money or setting financial goals
  • Telling themselves that they don’t deserve money or shouldn’t care about it

Overcoming this script as an advisor begins with establishing a rapport around the topic of money. For clients to feel comfortable looking at their financial situation and taking an active role in managing it, they may first need to be comfortable simply talking about financial concepts.

It can also be helpful to focus on the positive aspects of money in order to overcome a money avoider’s objections surrounding it. For example, if they believe that all wealthy people are greedy you may point out examples of philanthropists who use their money to do good.

You may also encourage clients to practice positive self-talk about money as it relates to their own situation. Having them create a personal financial mantra, such as “I see money as a tool for reaching my goals,” can help to shift their perspective and change their money script.

Money worship. Money worshippers tend to believe that the amount of money they have directly correlates to their level of happiness. The trap for people who follow a money worship script is never feeling that what they have is enough.

Money worshippers can develop unhealthy habits like overworking or making risky investments in order to get more money in the hopes that it will finally make them feel content or satisfied. They may also overspend to try and get more “stuff” to feel happy. In doing so, they may get a temporary mental payoff in the short term but neglect the potential long-term rewards associated with building wealth.

When you’re working with clients who worship money, the challenge is helping them sever the money equals happiness link that they’ve established in their beliefs. Some of the ways you may be able to do this include:

  • Working with them to consciously curb overspending and address the triggers that may lead them to give in to impulse buys.
  • Encouraging them to put their money to work in positive ways, such as donating to a charitable cause that they believe in.
  • Helping them rethink their focus on acquiring positions by replacing it with an emphasis on seeking happiness in experiences, hobbies or satisfying personal relationships.

At their core, people who follow a money worship script may desire a sense of security more than anything else. Your challenge as an advisor is helping them to recognize that security is not solely defined by how much money one has.  

Money status. A money status script is similar to a money worship script, in that there’s an underlying belief that financial success determines one’s personal worth and status. The difference is that while money worshippers believe that money creates happiness, people who follow a money status script tie their identity and how they value themselves to what money allows them to have.

Clients who follow a money status script may exhibit their beliefs by overspending in order to achieve a certain lifestyle. They may paint a picture of being wealthy, without having any real wealth to speak of or put down others who are more frugal or conservative in the way they spend.

The challenge with these types of clients is helping them to separate their self-worth from their net worth. They may see money as the only thing that gives life meaning or believe that only the best things in life are worth having. Helping them to rewrite that script may require a deeper dive into their childhood experiences with money which led them to associate wealth with status.

Money vigilance. Money vigilance scripts are something of an outlier, in that they center around the beliefs that money must be worked for and earned, and that saving is an important goal. However, this script can be problematic if that commitment to saving and frugality manifests itself as anxiety about spending or fear of taking risks with investments.

Clients who are money vigilant may be reluctant to talk to you about how much money they have, which can make it difficult to offer advice on how to manage it. They may be reluctant to follow the advice that you give if it means moving outside of their comfort zone. Money vigilance could also lead people to overwork in order to try and make more money to save or deny themselves things that might make their lives easier or better if it means spending money.

Working with clients who are money-vigilant can be challenging if they’re uncomfortable with the idea of putting their money to work. You may need to spend more time walking them through possible outcomes of making financial decisions to understand the risks so that they’re able to feel less anxious in doing so. The goal is to help them find the right balance between saving money and enjoying it.

Bottom Line

A financial advisor working with a senior couple to change their money scripts.

Navigating money scripts as an advisor isn’t always easy, especially if clients exhibit characteristics of following more than one script. Identifying their money scripts and the behaviors that result from them is the first step. From there, you can work with your clients to create an actionable plan for developing new money habits and beliefs that can help them achieve their goals.

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