I’ve been listening to Bad with Money with Gaby Dunn, a very funny new podcast about a young creative who is, indeed, bad with money (but trying to be better). I highly recommend it. On the second episode, she sits down with a financial psychologist, who walks her through her “poor” money scripts. A script is the first thing the little voice in your head whispers in a knee-jerk fashion in a given situation. In Gaby’s case, her money scripts sounded like, “Well, I could die tomorrow so I might as well spend it now!” and “I mean, the money will end up coming from somewhere and it’ll totally be okay in the end, right?” While these scripts may mean Gaby gets a lot of momentary fun, obviously they set her up for future turmoil when she needs money and doesn’t have any.
It got me reflecting on what my own money scripts might be. I knew immediately mine are different (from the vague sense of horror her discussion elicited), but there’s a downside to some of my scripts, too. Here are a few I thought of:
You have to provide for yourself, because no one else will.
This comes from my childhood, growing up in a household where there was always a chance that there would be no money at any given point. It means that since grade school, I have had odd jobs to make sure I would have money exactly when I needed it. It means that when I was choosing a college, I was told, “Just make sure you choose a place you can afford,” the implication being that I’d need to pay for it myself. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, because my grandparents gave plenty of assistance, and my parents did the best they could. But, since I never knew when assistance was coming, I had to factor it out of the picture.
- The upside: I have a strong work-ethic. I also have what a friend recently described as a “very strong emphasis on self-advocacy,” which is a nice way of saying I ain’t takin’ no crap off nobody.
- The downside: I have a really hard time accepting gifts, particularly not from family. It’s partially a pride thing–I want to earn the thing myself to prove I’m worthy and capable. It’s also a fear that by giving me the thing, the giver is somehow going to be inconvenienced or I will be beholden to the giver (because money is finite). The worst fight I ever had with my first boyfriend was over a sewing machine he bought me for Christmas.
If you can do without it, you probably should.
This comes from constantly prioritizing every desire to ensure I used my limited resources on the things that will bring me the most joy. That is not just because of a true limit on resources in my family, but also having been raised by three great-grandmothers who survived the Great Depression. I used to meticulously prioritize which CDs I most wanted in order to get the most bang-for-my-buck with my Christmas money. I have been known to labor over whether or not to buy a lightweight jacket in my favorite color (when I do not own a single lightweight jacket) for thirty minutes in a store.
- The upside: I have a lot of gratitude for the things that I have. I often walk around our house marveling. “Wow, look at all this stuff, and it’s mine! I have machines that do my dishes! What a world!” I think it’s easier for me not to take “stuff” for granted than other people. It also means I’m really good at evaluating and recognizing what will make me most happy for the money.
- The downside: Obviously, making “big” purchases is fairly agonizing. I need Mr.Steward around to say, “If you don’t just decide on the d–n jacket, I’m going to grab it and buy it myself.” Otherwise, I would likely pass up on things that function and bring me joy. That jacket is still my only lightweight jacket, and I still love it. I also get very upset when the stuff I do have breaks or has to be replaced. I have to be wary of going full-on Scrooge McDuck, hoarding for no reason. (Although money diving looks pretty fun…)
… Unless it’s really cheap, in which case you can’t pass it up.
Dollar bins and fast food were two areas where it was possible to do non-Christmas and birthday spending as a kid. So, this is the one type of spending in my mind that has been earmarked as “okay.” I still remember the day my Dad bought me a little doll with bathtub from the Family Dollar. (It can’t have cost more than $3.) Other little treats, like Sugar Babies and Pop-Tarts, were always around.
- The upside: I mean, if you’re going to have a spending weakness, I guess dollar bins are a the best weakness to have?
- The downside: Cheap, throwaway items and food are a huge blind spot in my spending. Dollar bins are mostly full of junk. Sometimes it’s cute junk, but it’s usually stuff you’re just buying because it’s $1, not because you need it. Fast food and tasty, tasty sugar are, of course, really bad for you. I’d generally be better off saving my money and using it to purchase a “buy it for life” item or, you know, investing.
Mr. Steward Weighs In
I asked Mr. Steward about his money scripts, and he says his primary script is, “You have money to spend, get something you want.” This comes from his childhood as a horror-loving minister’s kid. The stuff he most wanted was not something his parents were willing to buy, so that meant that any money that came into his life was his only way to get the stuff that really interested him. To this day, that is a key way that he interacts with money: as a tool to get the entertainment that he wants.
[EDIT: Case in point, Mr. Steward just texted me to say, “Every time I hear the phrase ‘money script,’ I just hear this.” The link explains a lot, but is NSFW.]
So tell me about you! I’m very interested to hear the sheer variety of ways people innately relate to money. What do you think are your key money scripts?