The 10 Most Common Money Lies We Tell Ourselves

The 10 Most Common Money Lies We Tell Ourselves

If there’s anything we excel at, it’s fooling ourselves. We all have a set of core beliefs, and these “scripts” are like the screenplay that helps us make sense of the world around us.

But what if our beliefs are wrong?

Because I’m in finance, every day I hear people express their money scripts. These scripts are the powerful (but often subconscious) beliefs each person holds about money. Because they’re so fundamental to our way of thinking, they’re not usually examined – that is, most of us just assume these beliefs are true.

The problem is that each of these statements about money is only partially true. Most people get into money trouble when they start taking a script that applies in some instances and apply it universally in their lives.

Though there are 4 general categories  that these scripts fall into, there are hundreds of individual statements that are held strongly.* Here are ten of the most common money beliefs that, when held too tightly, trip us up:

1. Money will make things better.
The most common money script in America is that more money equals better life. “If I just had a little more money, my problems would be fixed.” As someone who works with the very-wealthy, I can tell you that often “mo money = mo problems.”

2. Money is bad.
Have you ever seen someone drive a fancy car by you and immediately thought the worst of them? This script takes the partial truth of “money corrupts” and applies it to every situation. I know many wealthy individuals for whom this is not true. Unfortunately, negativity bias reinforces these stereotypes (“I only seem to meet rich people who are mean.”)

3. I don’t deserve money.
This is a common script among COWs (“children of wealth”) or others who didn’t earn their wealth. It’s also widely held by those in helping professions like social services and nonprofit work. It can be connected to low self-esteem or feelings of guilt. If this belief is held very tightly, it often leads to unconscious self-sabotage.

4. I deserve to spend money.
This money script is connected to high self-esteem. Advertisements bombard with the message, “You deserve to spend money on you!” However, a sense of entitlement can lead to damaging behaviors when this script leads to spending outside one’s means.

5. There will never be enough money.
If you had an experience in childhood where you or a loved one suffered because of a lack of money, it’s very possible for you to hold closely the fear that your money could run out at any time. I’ve seen those with assets over $100 million fear that their money will run out. It’s not actually about the money.

6. There will always be enough money.
On the other hand, others feel the opposite is true: the money will never run out. Those who grew up in an atmosphere of abundance can make bad financial decisions because they deeply feel the money will be around no matter what.

7. Money will give me meaning.
Money can seem to unlock magic doors and give one “relevance”, and this is especially noticeable to those who grew up without it. This script, especially when deep-rooted, is very hard for most people to admit they hold. Many do not even know they believe it.

8. Money is unimportant.
As an over-reaction to the script above, some live as if money has absolutely no meaning, ignoring it altogether. This can lead to many different kinds of unhealthy financial decisions (like never budgeting).

9. It’s not nice to talk about money.
If you ever want to see someone sweat, ask them how much money they make. Almost everyone in America holds this to some degree. Personal money decisions can be one of the most taboo subjects. Sometimes important conversations are avoided because they feel awkward.

10. If I am good, all my needs will be supplied.
This script is especially common among those with strongly held religious beliefs. It can be just as dangerous as the others if applied incorrectly – and particularly when paired with other scripts (like “money is unimportant”).

Do you agree with any of these ten statements? You probably saw yourself in a number of them, possibly even ones that conflict with each other. Be careful how far you’re willing to take these beliefs, though. Most of our bad money behaviors come from holding one or more of these money scripts too tightly.

* These ten money scripts and many of the concepts here are adapted from research done by Ted and Brad Klontz. For more, see chapters 6-7 of Facilitating Financial Health (Klontz, Kahler, Klontz, 2008).

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