If you aren’t satisfied with the way you manage finances, perhaps the problem isn’t that you don’t know enough about money. Instead, the problem may be the money “truths” you know that aren’t really true. Most of these are beliefs you developed as a child.

Children are constantly being taught by their parents and other significant people in their lives. Messages come in all the time: do this, don’t do that, this is good, that is bad, this is true, that is not. Children process those messages with the immature perspective and limited resources they have available, then internalize them into unconscious “rules” that shape the way they view the world and the way they behave.

Such messages come from religion, school, peers, and society in general. Many of the most powerful ones, though, come from families. Some are spoken, but many others are communicated by family members’ behavior. If Mom and Dad fight about money, the kids can learn that money is a source of conflict. If Mom and Dad give to charities, the kids learn that giving is something “our kind of people” do.

From both the direct and indirect messages we receive as children, we each create our own set of unconscious beliefs about money. Those beliefs, or “money scripts,” shape our choices in adulthood, sometimes with destructive consequences.

As an example, suppose a brother and sister grew up in poverty after their father abandoned the family. Their mother worked hard just to provide the necessities, and she was angry and bitter about her husband’s desertion.
Depending on the exact circumstances, their personalities, and other factors, the children would develop various money scripts. The daughter might decide, “Men can’t be trusted, so I’d better be able to take care of myself.” Her brother might come to believe that, “I’m no good if I don’t provide well for my family.”

They also might form unconscious scripts such as the following: “I’m never going to get ahead, so I might as well not try.” “I deserve to buy whatever I want because I grew up without anything.” “It’s wrong to spend anything on myself.” “Having lots of money is more important than anything else.”

As adults, then, their behavior around money would be based on these unconscious “truths.” Money scripts they were completely unaware of would affect their day-to-day financial decisions, their career choices, their adult relationships, and their parenting. They might learn to work hard and take care of their families, or they might take those behaviors to extremes and become workaholics or misers. They might hide money from their spouses. They might run up huge credit-card debt through buying everything they “deserved.” They might be vulnerable to get-rich-quick schemes.

Money scripts themselves aren’t necessarily wrong or bad; the problem is the way we apply them blindly even in situations where they don’t fit. An script is a set of instructions we follow, just like actors who have learned their lines. The problem comes when we unconsciously use the same script for every circumstance. It makes no more sense than using the character of Romeo for every leading male role in all of Shakespeare’s plays.

Yet playing Romeo over and over, regardless of whether that role fits the current situation, is exactly what we do when we blindly follow our unconscious money scripts. Those beliefs prevent us from seeing other choices that might be more useful in particular situations.

Because money scripts can have such a profound effect on our lives, the first step toward wiser financial behavior is to identify them. Once you identify your own, you can learn to change them and to develop a healthier, more productive relationship with money.

Author's Bio: 

Rick Kahler, CFP®, and Kathleen Fox are the authors of Conscious Finance: Uncover Your Hidden Money Beliefs and Transform the Role of Money in Your Life (FoxCraft, Inc., 2005, $16.95). Rick is a pioneer in the “financial integration” evolution of the financial planning profession and a co-founder of the Financial Integration Workshop. Kathleen is an author, editor, and former columnist for The Dallas Morning News. For more information about the book and their workshops, go to www.consciousfinance.com.