Several years ago, I attended a conference session with Tim Maurer. He began by asking each of us to think of our first memory of money. Take a moment, do you remember yours?
A common answer is the Tooth Fairy. I find this a hilarious first money memory, a magical fairy who pays children for leaving discarded teeth under their pillows at night. Nick shared a captivating story of his Tooth Fairy experience here. What money script does the Tooth Fairy create? Perhaps if the Tooth Fairy leaves you $1, and your friends receive $5, you will intuit than you are less valuable that your peers. Maybe we all learned that money comes from a magical place and have no grounded sense of how to earn, save, and invest it.
I am deep in to an 8-week course on Behavioral Finance for grad school. The work is intense. Research papers are due every Sunday, and there is a mid week discussion that requires additional reading and research. But the knowledge, whether revisited or learned for the first time, is worth the effort. Nevertheless, I will be glad when I finish in mid-December. I can’t wait to get back to my reading list.
This week the research paper is on money scripts – unconscious beliefs we have about money. Money scripts are embedded in our psyche during childhood, often passed down from family members. Common money scripts include; “hard work earns money,” “inherited wealth is bad,” or “poor people are lazy.” Once developed, money scripts are difficult to change. From the class text, Facilitating Financial Health:
Some money scripts are formed at a deep, primal level and become part of our world view or ‘schema.’ These beliefs, developed for survival and protection in an unpredictable world, are often incredibly resistant to change, especially when there is a strong emotion attached to them.
I found it difficult to finish reading the chapter without stopping to think about my personal money scripts, those of my closest family and friends, or of clients. I have never examined my money scripts, and I plan to take the assessment to find out. I have to admit, I’m a little nervous about what I might discover, but knowing oneself is a critical component to success.
My first memory of money is the offering plate at church. The plate is passed up an down the aisles during a prescribed part of the service, and parishioners are asked to contribute. Every hand touches the plate, and your neighbors will know if you don’t drop something in. I remember my parents giving me a quarter or a dollar to drop in to the plate, so that I wasn’t left out of the process. Today, I always find myself scrambling to get the bill or check out of my purse before the plate reaches my row. Maybe I should sit further back in the church. I’m not sure how this contributes to my money scripts, but in a way, I am relieved this is my first money memory, that the concept of giving was first.
Money is a means of exchange, a way of valuing labor, good, and services, and a temporary store of value. The creation of money created a giant leap forward in innovation, quality of life, and standard of living for humankind. But it is also the number one source of stress in relationships and the top reason cited in divorce. Parents or spouses can use money to control their dependents, sometimes in traumatic ways. Money disorders such as gambling, workaholism, and money avoidance can ruin lives and break up families. If we take the time to explore our money scripts – those deeply embedded unconscious beliefs – we may find the path to avoiding the pitfalls and problems that money can bring.