We all tell ourselves a story when it comes to money. For some of us, our story is that we work 9-5, yet we have no idea where our money goes.
Maybe we’ve traveled to 57 different countries and from the outside, life looks good. But you’ve maxed out nine different credit cards and you have no idea how you’ll ever pay off that debt.
Or my personal favorite, I’m bad at math and money, I always have been, always will be.
Maybe you’ve used one of these excuses before when it came to budgeting? I know I did – I thought budgets were for rich people who wanted to ensure no one was stealing from them. I know, it’s so ridiculous it’s almost too cringe-worthy to share, but that was part of my money story.
When it comes to our money stories, personal finance experts are finding it’s really our money mindset – that story we tell ourselves – that truly predicts our financial success in life, and not how much we earn, how much we save, or whether we invested in the stock market.
Money Story Archetypes
Think of money mindsets as like a story or a film that plays on a loop in your head, 24/7, 365.
In films and literature, writers and filmmakers often use archetypes to help the audience better understand a character or a story more quickly. The author assigns particular traits and qualities such as compassion, strength, self-sacrifice to depict those that ultimately become the heroes of the story. While the villains of the story are depicted with characteristics like jealousy, selfishness, and greed.
Well, as it turns out, archetypes also pop up in money stories.
There are three money archetypes:
- There is and never will be enough money. (Scarcity)
- I have what I need, I’m fine just where I am. (Good Enough)
- I need to have it all, I want to have it all. (Limitless Abundance)
Most of us have money stories that fit in the first category, scarcity mindset.
The good news is that you can change your money story and your money mindset. The first step is to figure out how you feel about money today.
How Our Money Stories Shape Our Mindset
Let’s play a game. I’ll give you the start of a sentence and you fill in the missing word with the first thing that comes to mind.
- Money is the root of all ____.
- Earning money is _____.
- Money doesn’t grow on _____.
- Rich people are ______.
How many of you answered those statements similar to what’s below?
- Money is the root of all EVIL.
- Earning money is HARD.
- Money doesn’t grow on TREES.
- Rich people are BAD.
How many of you answered those statements a little differently? Are your answers closer to these ones?
- Money is the root of all FREEDOM.
- Earning money is EASY.
- Money doesn’t grow on INACTION.
- Rich people are GIVING.
If your answers for the missing words more closely resembled the first set – chances are the story you are telling yourself subconsciously about money is a negative one.
If your answers were closer to the second set, your money story is likely more positive.
Whether your money story is positive or negative is important to know because it ultimately impacts the financial decisions you make.
Nearly 95 percent of the decisions we make every day are on a subconscious level.
So if you feel undeserving of money on a subconscious level, if you feel you’re not smart enough to figure out your financial situation, or if you’re feeling you’re never going to catch a financial break, or pay off debt, you likely won’t because your mind has already decided that you’re not good with money so you shouldn’t have it.
This is a psychological phenomenon that affects people of every income and helps explain why more than 70 percent of lottery winners – winners who win millions and millions of dollars – end up filling for bankruptcy.
If you don’t feel deserving of a raise, of living without debt, chances are your brain is going to create a world where you don’t ever get a raise and you are perpetually in debt. Like these lotto winners, you will find a way to spend the money and get back to being in debt if that is what your money story tells you.
This is why you hear stories about claims winners and individuals who won big settlements after an accident or the death of a loved one, they can’t spend that money fast enough because there’s something uncomfortable with where that money originated from.
Changing Your Money Story
Living paycheck-to-paycheck has become the norm. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, nearly half of the country – 49 percent of Americans – were living paycheck-to-paycheck. And it’s not just people who earn minimum wage. There are millionaires and other high-income earners who are living paycheck-to-paycheck.
How can this be?!
Given that nearly 95 percent of our daily decisions are made on a subconscious level, it’s not hard to imagine our outdated money story may be preventing us from accomplishing our new money goals.
Especially if you’re busting your butt working on paying off debt the last thing you want to is to be working against yourself on your debt-free journey. So is there a way to get a better idea of what your subconscious money values may look like?
Journal About Your Money
One way to get a better idea of the kind of relationship is to journal about your experiences and feelings related to money.
So for example, say Alicia is on a budget but she really enjoys stopping at Starbucks each morning and picking up a coffee after dropping off the kids at school and before she heads to work. Alicia would then write in her journal:
Money Journal Sept. 14, 2020:
- $5 Starbucks Coffee
Then below, Alicia can write down what this experience meant to her:
I love the peace and calm when I pick up my Starbucks coffee. I know the kids are taken care of and where they are supposed to be. This coffee is my little me-time where I can have a few moments to myself before I walk into work and the chaos ensues.
This is a money journal though and we want to dig deeper, so ask yourself:
- When you bought yourself that coffee this morning, how did it feel?
- How did it taste knowing it cost you $5?
- How would your day have gone differently if you didn’t have that coffee?
- If I were to allocate that $5 toward new clothing, a house down payment, travel, or my retirement brought me more joy or peace with money?
Meet with a Financial Therapist or Coach
It’s like traditional therapy but specifically for your financial situation. The two most common feelings financial therapists help people overcome: anxiety and shame.
“Our focus is really looking at an individual or a couple’s relationship with money. How that relationship has developed over time, what areas are working well for them, and what areas are not working so well” Family & Marriage Therapist Ed Coambs said.
“We think about, you know, how’s your life going? What kind of behavioral patterns, what emotions are stirred up for you, and then what relationship dynamics are happening for you around money,” Coambs explained. “We’re looking for those places where you’re experiencing distress.”
Consumer Credit Counseling
Nonprofit credit counseling organizations like DebtWave Credit Counseling, Inc. exist to help you, the consumer. Our team of certified credit counselors can offer you a complimentary budget analysis and help you get a better idea of where your money is going, share ways to increase your income, and pay off debt if applicable.
Sometimes when our money story is negative, we don’t even recognize all the ways we’re spending our money.
“Credit card usage has become compulsive and addictive,” says DebtWave’s Director of Counseling Services Carlos Perez. “People live their life like they’re not in debt. We’re that proverbial cold bucket of water waking people up.”
Free Financial Education Classes
When it comes to anything in life, practice makes practice. The first time we drove a car or learned how to surf or do yoga, most of us struggled. Learning comes with new challenges and obstacles. The same goes for our financial situation.
Our relationship with money is a lifelong one. Nonprofit organizations like DebtWave and the San Diego Financial Literacy Center offer free financial education in the form of blogs, podcasts, webinars, and more.
Have you changed your money mindset? Share your story in the comments below!