Do You Have a Dysfunctional Relationship with Money?

I have always wondered why my siblings and I have such different approaches, attitudes and dysfunctions where money is concerned.  We were all born to the same parents and lived in the same household, so why are we so different?  I suspect that birth order, gender and individual differences have played a role, but I am not convinced that is the whole story.

Why do some people seem to have a dysfunctional relationship with money?

In their book Mind Over Money, the authors Brad Klontz and Ted Klotz think there is more the story too.  They propose that many of our money behaviours and dysfunctions are the result of “money scripts”, unconscious mental frameworks we develop to understand money.  One of the intriguing things about money scripts is that many of our scripts are developed in childhood, long before we receive our first paycheck, credit card or loan.  They are our attempt to make sense of the messages we receive about money and our early financial experiences.  We carry these scripts into adulthood, even if they no longer serve us, and they are very resistant to change.childhood money scripts messy money

Could different money scripts help explain the differences between me and my siblings?  I think so.  Although we grew up in the same family, our experiences related to money were very different during our formative years.  Child 1, during my early years our family was a working class family living in a predominately white-collar community, filled with high earning professionals.  Child 2 experienced a move to a more modest neighbourhood; where our family would have been considered relatively well off.  Child 3 experienced a move to a better area and a significant improvement in our financial situation and lifestyle.  So, there you have it, three children, three different experiences and now as adult three different money styles based on our own personal money scripts.

The 4 Categories of Money Scripts

Klontz and his colleagues have continued to research money scripts and they have developed a questionnaire called the Klontz Money Script Inventory (KMSI) that can help identify which category of scripts are dominant for an individual.

They have identified 4 money script categories, and they include:

  1. Money is bad (avoidance) “Good people should not care about money.”
  2. Money can fix everything (worship) “Money would solve all my problems.”
  3. Money equals self-worth (status) “If something is not considered the best, it is not worth buying.”
  4. Money is security (vigilance) “If you cannot pay cash for something, you should not buy it.”

Further studies have shown a relationship between money script categories, and disordered money behaviours.

A sample of their findings include:

Those that score high on avoidance scripts are likely to sabotage themselves financially and are at increased risk of compulsive buying.

  • Money worshippers are likely to be trapped in a cycle of revolving credit card debt.
  • Those in the money status group are more likely to commit financial infidelity by being deceitful about their spending.  They are also more likely to engage in pathological gambling than other types.
  • People in the vigilance group are less likely to engage in the dysfunctional behaviours that were measured, but are at risk of excessive anxiety and being overly focused on the future.


rewrite money scripts messy moneyIdentifying and Rewriting Your Money Scripts


According to the authors of Mind Over Money,

… transforming a dysfunctional financial life just cannot happen without identifying the underlying money scripts, examining where they came from and how they have helped us and hurt us.  pg. 245

They offer a number of exercises to identify our money beliefs and origins. They also offer strategies to reinterpret the experiences to rewire our brain for better financial health.

You can also visit their website to get access to Money Script, Money Disorder and Financial Health scales to complete these tests and view your own results.

And remember, since money scripts are formed in childhood, you may want to give some thought to the money scripts you are you helping your children write.

Klontz, B.T. & Britt, S.L. (2012). How clients’ money scripts predict their financial behaviors. Journal of Financial Planning, 25(11), 33-43.
Klontz, Brad, and Ted Klontz. 2009. Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten our Financial Health. New York: Broadway Business.



  1. classifying people into one of these 4 categories strictly speaking is impossible as people may share 2 or more of these beliefs (me being the best example) and stereotyping one into only these 4 is stupid to say the least


  2. At the end of the day,money is all you need.Your survival depends on it.Having a dysfunctional will obviously not help.Great post and everything was well explained.Thanks alot for the tips !!


  3. I’ve definitely found myself slowly gravitating toward the vigilance group in my later years. I mean I spend money on almost nothing unless I have to because I’m afraid of losing the security that having it can afford my life. I guess to some degree I have small aspects of all of the different categories. At some point I’m going to have to be sure to really take a step back and rethink my entire relationship and thinking points toward money and really see what I can do to make it work better for me moving forward.


    1. Turns out that is the most positive script to have – so it is an advantage. Thanks for stopping by. Looking forward to #finsavsat…


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