Whether you know it or not, you may be following a deeply ingrained script in your approach to money. And if you've tripped up in your finances, whether it's because you heed the siren song of credit card debt or fail to fund a retirement plan, it's essential to uncover the beliefs and emotions that drive your financial decisions.
Brad Klontz, an associate professor in the Institute of Personal Financial Planning at Kansas State University, says money scripts are taught to us in childhood.
"For example, you may have unconsciously sabotaged yourself if you were taught as a child that the rich are greedy. The result is that you probably don't save," he says.
The foolish solution to debt
Klontz went on his own journey of self-discovery after making a foolhardy decision that wiped him out financially. A psychologist by education, he completed graduate school with $100,000 in student loan debt during the height of the dot-com stock market bubble.
"I grew up relatively poor and was desperate to get out of debt," he says. "All my friends were making six figures by trading tech stocks so I sold everything I had and invested it all in tech stocks." Little did he know the bubble would burst in three months. Within six months, he had lost everything.
"Afterward, I asked myself why a normally intelligent person would do something so stupid," he says. His training as a psychologist led him to dig deeper into the family history, which led to a revelation about his family's approach to money. "I discovered that what I did made perfect sense when I looked at family stories."
The family money tree
Klontz discovered that his grandfather's family lost everything in the Great Depression. "His money script was that you can't trust banks, and so he kept all his money in a lockbox in the attic. He lived that way his entire life. He died at age 93 and never put a dime in the bank," Klontz says. "My mother was a step better; she wouldn't invest in the stock market, but she put all her money in bank CDs."
But then Klontz leaped several steps ahead of his mother's approach. "My mom was terrified of the stock market, so what did I do? I put 100 percent of my money in the most risky stocks. I swung as far the other way as possible," he says.
Klontz rewrote his money script after recognizing he was blindly following emotions instead of a rational financial plan. He began to research what it would take to develop a solid investing plan that would see him through the long term. "It took me several years, but I was a voracious reader of investing material," he adds.
He also made it a goal to pay off his debt with a tried-and-true method: "It took only three years to get out of debt because I put half to three-quarters of my income toward paying it off. Now, I'm cautious around debt, but I don't avoid it."
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