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“I always knew I was going to be rich. I don’t think I ever doubted it for a minute.”
Your money situation isn’t as much about dollars and cents as you think it is. If you’re struggling with financial anxiety, you find it hard to stick to a budget, or you can’t bring yourself to negotiate a salary you know you deserve, your mindset might be to blame.
Read on to discover your money mindset and steps you can take to start creating a healthy, Warren Buffett type mindset.
What is a money mindset or a money script?
Your money mindset or money script is your attitude towards money. This attitude is usually developed unconsciously through experiences and life events. These scripts will automatically run through your head all day (“That’s too expensive!” or “I’ll never make enough.” or “I’m so great with my money — I’m well on my way to being the next Warren Buffett.”)
Some money scripts are helpful, some aren’t. The key is to have more helpful, rather than unhelpful, money scripts.
How much do these scripts matter?
In short, a lot. And here’s why: what you think affects how you feel which in turn creates your actions.
This isn’t a new concept. Marketers use this framework to create campaigns that influence you using the framework Think, Feel, Do. When they create a campaign, they focus on what their campaign will make you think, how it will make you feel, and, ultimately, what it will make you do.
If companies use this idea to influence what you end up doing or buying, you can use it yourself to influence how good you are with money — or really, anything else in your life.
Let’s say you’re deep in credit card debt and you want to get out, but when you look at your balance a little voice in your head tells you that you’ll always be in debt. That thought makes you feel helpless and you might figure “Oh, what’s the use” as you pull out your credit card to make your purchase.
At the end of the month, your credit card balance has increased and that little voice says again, “I told you that you’d always be in debt.”
Fixing this inner layer doesn’t mean all of the next steps will fall into place and your problems will be magically solved, but it does make it easier.
Three detrimental money scripts
There hasn’t been a lot of research done on money mindsets or money scripts, but I found one study that was particularly interesting. This study looked at the association between money scrips and negative behaviors and found that there are three main categories of destructive thoughts: money avoidance, money status, and money worship.
- Money avoidance: If you avoid looking at your bank statement or credit card balance, have trouble sticking to a budget, and actively try to avoid thinking about your financial situation, you might be a money avoider.
- Money status: Do you ever get your net worth and your self-worth confused? Or maybe act like you have more money than you really do? You might have negative scripts related to money status.
- Money worship: Do you believe that money is going to solve all of your problems, but also know that you’ll never have enough? You might have money worship scripts.
What’s your money script?
Identifying your own money mindsets or money scripts starts with examining your thoughts. For really deep-seated money issues and anxiety, a financial therapist can help you uncover your money scripts and how they play out in your day-to-day life.
If you’re going it alone and trying to uncover your money scripts yourself, rather than trying to sit down and brainstorm past thoughts and beliefs, I find it much more effective to spend a week trying to take notice of your thoughts and actions as they happen.
What happens when you get an unexpected bill (or check) in the mail? Are you counting down until payday? Do you have a spending hangover at the end of the weekend?
These are all money scripts. Write them down — both the good and the bad — as they come so you can decide what money scripts you’re going to change.
It’s not just my mindset, it’s how I really am
Do you really think that you’re bad with money (or any other script that you have going on)? Really? Or maybe you’ve told yourself the same story for so long your judgment is a little off?
Of all the things you do well, assessing yourself objectively probably isn’t on the list. In fact, studies have shown that your coworkers are much better at assessing your personality than you are.
So hold your skepticism until you’ve actually done this exercise.
How to change your money mindset
For some serious money mindset issues, calling in a professional financial therapist might be your best bed. But if you have some nagging scripts that you’d like to change on your own, James Clear has excellent advice around all things habit and mindset related. His advice is well researched, easy to understand, and actionable. He has written about identity-based habits, which I think relate directly to changing your internal money scripts.
These thoughts that are running through your head are creating your identity. To change them, we need to change your identity-based habits.
To do this, he suggests two easy steps:
- Decide who you want to be
- Take small actions
Decide who you want to be
When I was growing up, I had a messy room. And I don’t mean the normal, teenage messy room. I mean trip over everything, can barely see the floor, clothes spilling everywhere, disaster of a room. I was one of the messiest people I knew.
I had forgotten about what a disaster my room had been until I was talking with my mom and sister last year. As I made some comment like, “I could never function without making my bed in the morning,” my sister gave me a strange look.
“At what point did you become such a clean person? What happened? How did you make that switch?”
I didn’t have an answer right away because I didn’t remember trying to become a cleaner person. It felt like it just happened. But after a little trip down memory lane, I remembered some classmates in college fighting over who had to room with the messy person. I never wanted anyone to talk about me the way they were talking about this person’s cleanliness habits.
I decided to become a clean person and, while I’m sure there were other steps that I took to get there, that decision has changed who I am more than a decade later.
So who do you want to be? Do you want to be the type of person who isn’t in credit card debt? Who saves regularly each month? Who is a confident investor?
Decide who it is that you want to be.
Take small actions
Now that you know who you want to be, it’s time to prove it to yourself with small wins. In money management, every dollar that you spend is a vote that reflects your values. So let’s think of this as every action that you take is a vote for the person you want to become.
If you want to be a person who saves regularly each month, commit to bringing your lunch to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays and put that $20 a week you would be spending into a savings account.
If you want to be a person who isn’t in credit card debt, start by taking the credit cards out of your wallet.
These actions aren’t overwhelming, but over time they will add up and help you change your identity.
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