DISCOVERING A CLIENT’S MONEY SCRIPT CAN HELP THEM PROSPE
BY CHIA-LI CHIEN
Alice was one of my recent pro bono clients (not her real name, but the facts are real). Alice has been a full-time government worker for three years. She is very stressed about keeping up with her lifestyle, so she works two other part-time jobs. Due to her combined income, her federal tax bracket shifted from 12 to 22%. Alice was shocked that there was no tax refund in 2021 but instead she owed federal and local income taxes.
To explain how this happened, I asked her to describe her situation and what her typical week looks like. Alice purchased a home in Sept. 2021 and believed she would get a deduction from her mortgage interest and property taxes. But she is a frequent sports bar customer and a great tipper. Additionally, Alice has four golden retrievers and other pets at home. She spends 40 hours a week at her full-time job, 20 hours a week at part-time job, and five hours a week working for Doordash. Voila! – she’s created the perfect storm of working more, stressing more and clearing less income.
Cultivate better behavioral finance
There are three financial benefits an individual should consider when making financial decisions, according to Meir Statman’s latest book of “Behavioral Finance: The Second Generation.” The three financial concepts include utilitarian, expressive, and emotional.
Utilitarian: “What does something do for me and my money?”
Expressive: “What does something say about me to others and myself?”
Emotional: “How does something make me feel?”
In Alice’s case of working three jobs yet spending at the same rate, her utilitarian benefit might justify her working 65 hours a week to make more money. Her ability to frequently visit sports bars leaving great tips gave her the expressive benefit about her financial ability. She felt good about her increased income to afford her lifestyle.
But Alice also demonstrated a hard-wired financial behavior of “money worship & money status” categories in the money script according to Dr. Klontz and Dr. Britt’s book “Financial Therapy: Theory, Research, and Practice.”
A money script is a belief that typically developed in childhood and is hard-wired into adult financial behaviors. There are four categories of money scripts: money avoidance, money status, money vigilance and money worship.
Money Status = financial status equals self-worth. In Alice’s case, she spent as fast as she made money to keep up her money status.
Money Vigilance = individuals stay alert and concerned about their financial health. They tend to save, stay frugal, and be smart about their spending. Alice did not show a money vigilance belief.
Money Worship = individuals believe money is the key to happiness, and the solution is to have more money. In Alice’s case, she works 65 hours a week to have more money.
Money Avoidance = individuals do not deserve money and believe wealthy people are greedy. Alice did not show a money avoidance belief.
After some simple calculations, I was able to illustrate to Alice that working less will help her remain in the lower tax bracket. Alice can afford to work at her full-time job and should forgo her two part-time jobs. She can also afford to visit a sports bar once a month or less to control her spending. Working less for Alice is a solution. I could see the stress coming off her shoulders immediately.
TOOLS TO IMPROVE MONEY SCRIPTS
Several tools can help you learn more beneficial financial and money script beliefs.
1. Statman’s book “Behavioral Finance: The Second Generation’’ is available on Amazon Kindle for free.
2. Visit Dr. Klontz’s website to test your and your client’s money script beliefs: bradklontz.com/moneyscriptstest
To enhance your ability to work with clients and learn more about how to balance financial mental health, consider taking one of the following graduate-level courses.
- The Master of Science in Financial Planning at The American College of Financial Services: Behavioral Finance class: theamericancollege.edu/designations-degrees/msfp
- The MBA in Financial Planning at California Lutheran University: Behavioral Finance class: callutheran.edu/fp
Creighton University’s online Graduate Certificate in Financial Psychology and Behavioral Finance: creighton.edu/academics/programs/financial-psychology-behavioral-finance
We all make the financial decisions from three financial benefits and hard-wired money script beliefs in financial behaviors.
An advisor’s ability to recognize the client’s financial benefits and their money script beliefs could help you better lead your clients in the right direction. In Alice’s case, working less was a nice surprise, along with other minor adjustments to control her spending. She certainly did not expect working less to be one of the solutions. In reality, working less will reduce her stress and help her maintain her mental health.
It is critical for the advisor to recognize and help balance the client’s financial and mental health. After all, not every financial issue can be solved by financial products.
CHIA-LI CHIEN, PH.D., CFP®, PMP®, CPBC, is a succession program director at Value Growth Institute. Before her consulting practice, she held several senior management positions in Fortune 500 companies. Chien is a frequent speaker and has published three award-winning books. She holds a doctorate in financial planning and is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®). Chien is an associate provost of graduate programs and associate professor at The American College of Financial Services.