What is a Money Script?

We all have different “money scripts,” or things we tell ourselves about money that impact our financial decisions. Becoming aware of these thoughts—and the impact they have on our spending and saving behaviors—is important as you plan for and enter retirement.

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A new and growing field is the area of Financial Therapy. The Financial Therapy Association defines financial therapy as “a process informed by both therapeutic and financial competencies that helps people think, feel, and behave differently with money to improve overall well-being through evidence- based practices and interventions.” While a financial adviser might help you with things like investment management, tax planning, and estate planning, a financial therapist is a professional who helps their patients change their mindset and relationship with money to improve financial behaviors such as over-spending or even under-spending in some cases. One of the key concepts that many financial therapists ascribe to is the concept of “money scripts”. Simply put, money scripts are the things that we tell ourselves about money that shape our financial decisions. 

Think about the last time you went to a store. You saw an item that you liked, you picked it up and inspected it closer, then you looked at the price tag. Pause for a moment. What goes through your mind next is likely a money script. Which of these could you imagine saying to yourself?

  1. I work hard, you only live once, I deserve to treat myself. 
  2. I have a perfectly good one of these at home, this is too fancy and a waste of money. 
  3. I can’t afford it. If I go around spending like this, I’ll run out of money. 

These are just a few examples of the stories that we tell ourselves about our financial decisions. They are often words that came directly out of the mouths of our parents. Other times they are words we learned on our own from observing the mistakes and successes of others. The four categories that theses scripts generally fall into are Money Avoidance, Money Worship, Money Status, and Money Vigilance.

Sometimes the scripts we recite in our heads are reasonable and grounded in reality; other times, we may still be reciting scripts that we learned in a different time of our lives that served us well then, but no longer apply. 

If you are 50 and have nothing saved for retirement, perhaps “I deserve to treat myself” is not serving you well. If you are 65, have $6 million, and only spend $120,000 a year, perhaps fretting over the price of that slightly nicer coffee machine that you will use every single day is not serving you well either.  

An important part of determining whether these beliefs are still reasonable involves understanding your overall financial position. By working with a financial adviser to develop a comprehensive plan, you can begin to understand the answer to the questions like: can I afford this? 

I would challenge you to try to develop an awareness of the money scripts in your head and ask yourself: Is this reasonable? Is this belief still serving me well? 




Journal of Financial Therapy (Volume 2. Issue 1 2011) “Money Beliefs and Financial Behaviors: Development of the Klontz Money Script Inventory” by Brad Klontz, Psy. D., Sonya L. Britt, PhD, Jennifer Mentzer, BS, Ted Klontz PhD.  

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