Money Scripts For Couples - Pacesetter Planning

Money Scripts For Couples: How Unconscious Beliefs Affect Your Financial Differences

(If you’d prefer to listen to this article, you can get a podcast version of this post here: Money and Marriage Podcast Episode 139 – Money Scripts for Couples).

No matter what I did, I just couldn’t get Jim and Jane (names changed to maintain confidentiality) to save money. Or, more accurately, I couldn’t get Jim to save money.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t save money. Both Jim and Jane had good-paying jobs; he made over $150,000 per year, and she made even more. They didn’t have kids, and they lived in a relatively low cost of living area. And their budget routinely showed that they expected to save $3,000 per month from Jim’s paycheck.

Jim liked to keep $15,000 in his checking account. If he had a big unexpected expense that drained his account, he’d quickly cut back expenses to get his account back to $15,000. And if he got a bonus or had fewer expenses than normal, he’d quickly go out and buy something big or take a trip to get rid of the excess cash.

Jim knew he needed to save money. He (and Jane) really wanted to upgrade to a bigger house in a few years, and he agreed that he needed to come up with a down payment.

But no matter what he tried, nothing moved the needle. His bank account sat at $15,000. (It’s worth noting that during this time, Jane was saving diligently. But, she was falling behind on her home purchase goal because Jim wasn’t pulling his weight. Yet another reason why your spouse’s financial situation will impact you, regardless of whether you combine finances or not.

Jim’s Unconscious Beliefs Were Holding Him Back

It wasn’t until I asked Jim to complete a quick questionnaire called the Klontz Money Script Inventory that we were able to make a breakthrough.

I’ll talk more about what this assessment is at the end of the article, but at a high level: you complete a questionnaire with a series of statements and you are asked to indicate whether you agree or disagree with them.

And when I was reviewing Jim’s answers, one caught my eye: “Being rich means you no longer fit in with old friends and family – Strongly agree.”

During my next meeting with Jane and Jim, I asked him to tell me more about this answer. I asked him to share an experience or a memory that may have caused him to strongly agree with the statement that “Being rich means you no longer fit in with old friends and family.”

Jim then shared a few experiences he had growing up about friends and family making comments on the subject that had clearly left an impression on him. We discussed some scenarios where this might in fact be true – that building wealth can cause you to lose close connections. But we also explored some instances where this might be false.

And in true Bill fashion, we eventually stopped looking through the rearview mirror and dug into whether he thought that saving for their house payment goal would threaten any of his relationships with existing friends and family.

On the contrary, he and Jane both believed the opposite would be true. One of the reasons they were looking to move was to be closer to family. In this particular case, they believed that saving would actually help them fit in more with old friends and family!

I could visibly see Jim relax at the end of the conversation. He hadn’t actively been ruminating on the idea that saving and building wealth would cut him off from friends and family, but it had clearly been impacting him.

Money Scripts: An Overview

Jim’s experience is a classic example of how your money scripts can impact your family’s finances.

The concept of money scripts has been developed and studied by several pioneers in the financial therapy space, including Ted Klontz, Brad Klontz, and Rick Kahler.  

What are money scripts? In a nutshell, they are:

  • Unconscious beliefs about the role of money in your lives. Since we don’t actively think about them, they tend to be assumptions that guide our actions unless we intentionally take the time to examine them. 
  • Developed in childhood and often mirror the same attitudes as your parents.
  • Incomplete or partial truths. In each money script, there are certain components that are true but also some things that are false. For example, one common money script is that “money would solve all of my problems.” There are certain grains of truth to this—if you’re struggling financially, there’s no denying that having more money would make a lot of things in life easier. But there are also some limits to this—having more money won’t solve health problems, loneliness, or disputes in your family. (In fact, having more money might make some of these problems worse!) 
  • Perspectives that enable you to make decisions about your finances the way you do, which means that money scripts are often responsible for the financial outcomes you have.
  • Capable of being changed. By understanding the money scripts that motivate you, and through understanding the degree to which they may not be objectively true, you can form a more balanced perspective on money over time.

In addition to the example I flagged in my conversation with Jim – “Being rich means you no longer fit in with old friends and family” – some examples of money scripts include statements like the following:

  • People get rich by taking advantage of others.
  • More money will make you happier.
  • I will not buy something unless it is new. 
  • Money should be saved, not spent. 

You may strongly agree with one or more of these statements, or you may completely disagree. The money scripts that drive your financial behavior will be different from other people’s money scripts, and this certainly includes your spouse. (Yes, I know I haven’t talked much about couples yet in this article, but we are getting there!)

What Are Money Scripts?
This graphic is from Chapter 5 of my book, Marriage-Centered Money: Get on the Same Financial Page and Achieve Your Life Goals Together. Grab your copy for 50% off here!

Thousands of Money Scripts Categorized Into Four Groups

In most cases where I see financial planners talking about money scripts, they make a crucial mistake that tends to confuse people. So, let’s unpack it.

When I was writing the first draft of the money scripts chapter my book Marriage-Centered Money back in 2021, I kept running into articles that talked about how there are only four kinds of money scripts.

Simply put, this is false. I’ve already given examples of at least six different money scripts in this article, so there are clearly more than four.

There are hundreds and hundreds of different money scripts. But over time, the individuals who pioneered the study of money scripts began to categorize a variety of different money scripts to help readers and researchers better understand the way that we view and manage money.

Specifically, there are four categories of money scripts:

  • Money Avoidance: A belief that money is bad or that you don’t deserve money. Often, people with strong Money Avoidance scripts will try to avoid thinking about money and will self-sabotage their financial success.
  • Money Status: A belief that money equals self-worth. This often causes individuals with strong Money Status scripts to overspend on things that will display their wealth. And, for the purposes of financial planning for couples, it’s important to note that Money Status is often correlated with hiding spending from one’s spouse.
  • Money Worship: This isexactly what it sounds like. People who score highly on the Money Worship money scripts view money as the solution to all of their problems. This doesn’t necessarily mean that these individuals are in good financial shape, though; they often seek as much money as possible and spend most of it in pursuit of happiness.
  • Money Vigilance: This is the most “positive” of the money scripts, although it often comes with excessive financial anxiety or guilt. People who score highly on the Money Vigilance money scripts are diligent and mindful of their financial health, and they are highly motivated to save.

The statement that Jim strongly agreed with – “Being rich means you no longer fit in with old friends and family” – is an example of a money script that would call in the money avoidance category.

I was beyond thrilled to see Rick Kahler, one of the original money scripts pioneers, come out with this article last year correcting the ‘myth’ that it’s possible to have one money script, or that there are only four different money scripts. (Had this been published a few years earlier, it would have saved me some headaches in doing the research for my book!)

You have dozens and dozens of money scripts – and all of them influence the way you make financial decisions.

Couples and Money Scripts

Money scripts are individual by nature. The academic work around money scripts has almost exclusively focused on how money scripts drive the financial decisions of individuals. There’s very little information out there about how money scripts affects couples and marriages.

In my book, I discuss a number of the most common financial differences I see in couples. Four of the most common are:

Saver versus spender – more often than not, one spouse in a marriage is much more inclined to save money than the other. This is arguably the most common financial difference in couples.

Hands-on versus hands-off – one member of the spouse is much more interested in being involved in the day-to-day financial management tasks of the household, and the other spouse tends to not enjoy digging into the financial weeds.

Independence versus interconnected – spouses often have different attitudes about the degree to which they want to integrate their finances. It’s very common for one spouse to value financial autonomy more than the other spouse.

Freedom versus security –  the easiest way to conceptualize this difference involves thinking about investment risk. Often, money is important to one spouse because it helps them achieve financial freedom; this spouse is often much more inclined to want to take investment risk to help their money grow faster. And on the other hand, a spouse that values security views money as something that is supposed to keep their family safe. Often, this spouse would rather keep cash in a savings account than invest it.

An in-depth discussion of these differences could be an article all on it’s own (indeed, I devote an entire chapter of my book to these differences!). But in the context of money scripts, it’s important to realize that most of the time, these differences are driven by a difference in money scripts.

Everyone has different money scripts, and often times, two people’s money scripts can be at odds with one another. This is especially likely to be true in your marriage if you and your spouse were raised in very different financial environments when you were growing up.

If money scripts are unconscious beliefs that drive your financial decisions, and you aren’t on the same page as your spouse when it comes to the financial decisions you are facing, it is likely that differences in money scripts are at the root of your disagreements.

How To Handle These Financial Differences

Everyone has different money scripts, there’s a good chance that you and your spouse have different – if not opposite – money scripts, and these differences are a primary reason why you and your spouse aren’t on the same page.

Sounds great, but what should you actually do about it?

1. Discuss Your Money Histories – take a few moments to disconnect from the present-day financial disagreements you might be having and instead explore how you got to where you are today. Set up some time with your spouse where you can talk about how you developed your financial points of view.

By taking the time to have a conversation about your money history, you’ll learn a lot about why you view money the way you do. Consider discussing the following questions with your partner to explore your money histories:

  • What’s the first memory you have involving money?
  • Growing up, money was ___________.
  • What did you learn about money from your parents/guardians? How open were they with you (and each other) about money?
  • Who taught you about money when you were growing up?

Remember, all you’re doing for now is talking about your past. There will be time to has out your differences down the road, but for now, focus on understanding where your spouse is coming from. There should be no shame, no blame, and no anger in these conversations; all you’re looking to do is to understand your spouse better.

There will be plenty of time to extrapolate the items you uncover to understand how they are shaping your present-day financial issues and arguments. But for now, all you’re looking to do is understand where your partner is coming from and how they arrived at their current attitudes about money. 

2. Take the Klontz Money Script Inventory (KMSI-R) – If you like the idea of taking a formal assessment of your money scripts, you can consider taking the KMSI-R, which is the same survey I gave Jane and Jim to complete that I mentioned way back at the beginning.

I currently offer the KMSI assessment to clients and to people who have purchased my book through a partnership with Datapoints. If you’re interested in taking this assessment, shoot me an email (bill at and I will get you and your spouse access to this assessment.

Once you get your results, I suggest you compare your answers with your spouse and flag a handful of specific money scripts where your answers are drastically different. From there, you can decide how to address these difference. And speaking of which…

3. Focus on your more problematic money scripts, not your spouse’s – Remember that one of the defining characteristics of money scripts is that they are capable of being changed. For a couple who isn’t on the same financial page because of their differing money scripts, this is fantastic news!

But, I’ve seen a number of couples get stuck when one spouse tells the other that they need to focus on and fix their “problematic” money scripts. The more you pressure your spouse to change, the less likely they’re going to want to be to do it.

Instead, I’ve seen couples have great success by each committing to work on one or two of their own more problematic money scripts at the same time. By each person committing to do the work, it’s a much more collaborative way to make the necessary changes to get on the same financial page and accelerate your progress.

If you go back and re-read the story of Jim and Jane at the beginning of the article, you won’t find anywhere in the story where Jane was pressuring Jim to work on his money scripts. In fact, Jane was doing her own money scripts work while Jim was working on the script mentioned above.

If you can agree to work on your money scripts together, you are much more likely to be successful in making a change.

Money Scripts Work is an Integral Part of Financial Planning for Couples

I’ve mentioned money scripts in passing in each of the last few articles I’ve posted on the blog, and for good reason.

For couples who aren’t on the same financial page, working on their money scripts can be one of the most impactful ways of working through your financial differences.

If you want help getting these conversations started with your spouse, I invite you to schedule a free breakthrough session whenever you’re ready.

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