When it comes to money beliefs, most of us have gotten past the hoary old chestnuts like, “Men earn and women spend” and “Money’s the root of all evil.” But there’s a whole other genre of money messages that may seem harmless—until you start unpacking what they’re really saying. Financial planner Rick Kahler, president-elect of the Financial Therapy Association, says money scripts are typically absorbed while you’re growing up, often without you realizing it. While you may not be consciously aware of them, they can have a deep influence on the way you approach and manage money (or mismanage it). We asked Kahler and other financial experts for six of the most common--and potentially dangerous--offenders.
“I’m not good with money.” (Or “My husband’s better than me with money.”)
The problem with this statement, says New York City psychoanalyst Kachina Myers, who specializes in helping clients with financial issues, is that it makes financial knowledge into something immutable—like having brown eyes or blonde hair—rather than a skill. “Money management is like cooking, or fixing a car or anything else you can learn,” says Myers. “But if you tell yourself you’re simply not good at it, you’re less likely to take steps to learn the basics you need to be financially healthy.”
And while it could be entirely possible that specific Guy X is more financially knowledgeable than you are right now, it’s important to approach assumptions like this with a wee grain of salt. Many surveys have found that women are more likely than men to say they ‘need help’ with finances or don’t know as much as they should, yet all this really proves, some experts say, is that women are more aware of what they don’t know. “Women tend to think we’re not good about money, but we’re so much better than we think,” says Myers. And if you’re sharing your financial life with another person, make sure you’re aware of and involved in all the choices being made.
“It’s rude to talk about money.”
Along with religion and politics, money has long been one of those topics you weren’t supposed to bring up at the dinner table. “But this is something you need to challenge,” says Myers. “Why would it be wrong to talk about money? We talk about all kinds of things we need to know about; it’s really the only way to learn.” (Caveat: This doesn’t mean you get carte blanche to brag about your finances or lord them over others—that will always be tacky.) There are some signs that the silence is starting to dissipate, especially with younger earners. Some recent polls have found that Gen Y feels more comfortable than older peers discussing everything from salary to debt loads, for example.
“I can’t afford it.”
If this is what you tend to think every time you peruse a gorgeous gadget or hear about someone’s extravagant vacation, it’s time for a reality check. The problem: “It’s a message of, ‘I have no control over my money,’” says Myers, “And if you really look at the numbers, it’s usually not true.” Many of the things we covet we could purchase—if we made trade-offs. Not willing to move your home and give up your social life in order to spend every spare dime on a sports car? The realization that that’s a choice can be really empowering. Next time, try using a different phrase: “I can’t afford this right now” or “I’m choosing not to buy this right now.”
“Salary doesn’t matter.”
A recent Accenture study found that women valued work flexibility over salary. But here’s the thing: Why assume you have to choose? Thinking that way might be doing you harm if it keeps you from asking for a higher salary. A recent survey, for instance, found that only one in four professional women had asked for a raise in the last year—though 75% of those who did, received it. Another danger: It’s easy to underestimate how much you really do need—and people with this mindset are especially likely to do so. Do a budget, and remember to include future spending like retirement and emergency savings. “Money isn’t the most important thing, but it’s not the least important thing,” says Myers. “You have a right to have what you need.”
“I deserve to buy this.”
We’re all for a healthy self-image—but if you’re looking for it via a credit card receipt, you're looking in the wrong place. “There are so many layers to why this is damaging, that it's hard to know where to start,” says Susan Taylor, of Louisville KY’s Just Money Advisors. “It undermines good spending decisions by tying our self-worth to buying or having, it fuels a sense of entitlement, and it hides a recognition that we don't need the object but it has some sort of value to us.” Next time you feel the urge for retail therapy, give yourself 30 days to thnk it over before you splurge on those strappy heels (or anything else). Chances are that by then, you won’t want them anymore. But either way, advises Taylor, be straightforward: “Tell yourself, ‘I want this, and I am going to buy it.’ Or ‘I can do without this and would rather save my money for something else.’ Either way, your self-worth is not on the line.”
“You have to work hard for your money.”
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your job, and there’s nothing wrong with hard work, says financial planner Rick Kahler, president-elect of the Financial Therapy Association. But when you identify 60-hour weeks as the only way to get ahead, you’re not only short-changing your personal life, you’re doing your bank accounts a disfavor by discounting net worth boosters like saving and investments. “It’s really a message of fear, saying that the money might disappear any second so you better keep your nose to the grindstone,” Kahler says.