What Is Really Behind Your Financial Anxiety?

Did you know what when it comes to personal financial decisions, 90% are based in emotion and only 10% in logic and reasoning?

What about this?

The amount of money you make isn’t really related to whether you are a spender or a saver

It is undeniable that when it comes to money, there is always more than meets the eye- and I don’t mean the amount of money. We sorely underestimate how much our emotions and childhood upbringing affects our financial decisions and how we think and feel about money. There are potent psychological factors driving our relationship with this material of all things.

Furthermore, money is a complicated topic and can even be considered taboo in some circles. We don’t like to openly talk about finances or financial troubles. There are a wealth of challenging emotions connected to struggling financially- shame, guilt, and anxiety among others. This is partly what makes it so difficult to talk about problem gambling and pyramid schemes!

Here is what’s on my mind: for all the time we spend thinking about making more money, why don’t we spend a few minutes talking about our relationship with the stuff?

In this post we will cover:

What a money script is

The factors that impact our relationship with money

Let’s dive in.

Money Talks and Money Scripts

Have you heard of a schema?

This is basically a cognitive framework that we use to organize and interpret information. Think of it like a mental shortcut. Without schemas, we would be constantly trying to piece together information that we should already know.

Schemas also affect what we pay attention to and how we absorb information. If something aligns with our pre-existing schema, we are more likely to accept it-hold onto this bit of information, we’ll come back to it later.

And all have different types of schemas. One type of schema is called a script. This tells us the sequence of behaviours and expectations around an event. For example, we know that at a movie theatre we buy a ticket first and then get the popcorn. We know that when we go to a restaurant, we have to wait to be seated etc.

We also have scripts around money that tell us what to do with our money and how to feel about. These scripts were written wayyy back, and we tend to stick closely to them throughout our lives, without even being aware they exist!

Definition: Money scripts are our unconscious beliefs about money. They emerge from our childhood and shape the way we handle our finances throughout our lives

Money scripts are:

  • Rooted in childhood
  • Passed on from generation to generation
  • Usually unconscious (i.e. we don’t even know we have them)
  • Responsible for major financial decisions

Childhood Experiences With Money

Money scripts are rooted in habit, which are often unconscious. However, every habit we possess has been learned somewhere, including how you habitually think and feel about money.

In order to root our your beliefs around money, think about the role money had in your life as a child.

Did your family:

  • Stress out about money
  • Value quality of experience over cost (i.e. going on expensive vacations to make good memories for the kids)
  • Maintain a frugal lifestyle by whatever means possible
  • Worry about money despite seeming to have enough (i.e. it was never enough)
  • Spend lavishly in a way that exceeded their income
  • Feel guilty about being unable to buy you new clothes, pay for school trips, extra curriculars etc.

Reflect on how you FEEL about your financial circumstances as a child

Do you resent not having enough? Or feel guilty about living in a bubble of financial privilege? Perhaps you feel proud of the hard work you did to help change your family’s circumstances.

Now think about how these childhood experiences affect your current financial behaviours

Do you work harder than anyone else because you want to leave your childhood financial circumstances behind? Or maybe you feel confident and self-assured in your ability to take large financial risks. Maybe you feel anxious about money and this leads you to save and live frugally. Or perhaps big financial decisions scare you.

The 4 Types Of Money Scripts

Making the connection between your childhood schema around money and your current habits often reveals your money script.

It’s worth figuring out what your money script looks like, in order to decide if it’s the best one for you. Here is short summary of each type of script:

1. Money Avoidance

If thinking about, talking about, and managing money gives you stress and anxiety, money avoidance might be your script. This is rooted in a fear of money (i.e. thinking it is tainted or automatically leads to corruption) or not believing we are capable of increasing our wealth and managing it well.

This can lead to thinking that frugality equals moral superiority. It also makes us more likely to struggle with paying bills on time (or simply not checking bank accounts and credit card statements), and creating to and sticking to a budget.

2. Money Worship

Money worship involves pursuing wealth as the ultimate end-goal key to happiness and satisfaction.

People who possess this script find it difficult to define what is ‘enough’ and tend to believe on some level that money can solve their problems. Now, money can certainly buy temporary happiness and long-term safety and comfort. However, people with the money worship script tend to spend money in order to fill an emotional void. They are also likely to neglect family and relationships to prioritize money.

3. Money Status

This money script equates money with self-worth. Those of us with this script may spend lavishly to impress or gain status with people who why believe are somehow better than them. They may also believe that wealth is a sign or reward of goodness.

4. Money Vigilance

Those of us with the vigilance script believe that financial success is a direct by-product of hard work, discipline, and application. They aren’t waiting for a big lottery win or a lucky break- they approach money matters strategically.

This script is also associated with one’s fear and anxiety over financial future.

Before You Go…

This year has exposed many of us to financial stress and anxiety. It’s important to maintain this perspective as you understand your relationship with money. There is nothing inherently wrong about being preoccupied with money or striving to increase our wealth!

It’s also important to recognize the systemic and oppressive factors that prevent so many people from changing their financial situation. Money will always be a source of stress when our basic needs are not being met!

I want to hear from you: Does the concept of money scripts resonate with you? And have you ever been able to change the way you approach money?

Until next time!

Sarah Ahmed


WellNest Psychotherapy Services

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.