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Psychology


Your money script is a story you tell yourself about money. This story, the way you approach your finances, an outlook on a certain segment of your life, can have a significant effect on your behavior. In the growing field of financial psychology, the money script is a key element for clients and patients.

Financial psychology is not quite a mainstream field of psychology yet, nor is it an approach that financial advisers normally consider. For clients who work with financial psychologists, however, there is a clear benefit.

Addressing stress-related issues from a financial behavior angle has been shown to be effective. For those who undergo this type of counseling, psychological distress decreases. When the practitioner is trained, clients come away with a better psychological relationship to money. There is not yet an accreditation in this field, so there’s always a chance of finding a psychologist or financial adviser who isn’t qualified for this type of role.

Discussion about money scripts could be a good way to open a conversation between a financial psychologist and his or her client. These scripts are described in a recent New York Times article:

Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist in Hawaii and an associate professor at Kansas State, thought up the phrase. In his research, Mr. Klontz has found four basic scripts: money avoidance, money worship, money status and money vigilance. Each has its own complications.

People with money avoidance tried to distance themselves from money. The result was predictable: They undermined their financial well-being.

Those who worshiped money believed it would cure all their problems, if they only had more of it.

People with a money status script seemed similar to money worshipers, except they connected money to their sense of well-being. Or as Mr. Klontz put it, self-worth was linked to net worth.

The last script was money vigilance. These people did not flaunt what they had; they paid their debts on time and were generally cautious about overspending. If anything, they were the ones who could deprive themselves for no rational reason.

These money scripts are more insightful than the approach to money I’ve previously thought about. A “money mindset” theory evaluates how someone perceives the concept of money as a whole. Money can be good, money can be bad, money can be neutral.

Those who think money is good might prioritize financial gain at the expense other goals, while those who think money is bad may limit themselves from achieving financial success. These money scripts offer some nuance that could help get to the root of a psychological issue.

In my initial adult years, my money script was money avoidance. I became aware I was in financial trouble, but there seemed to be nothing I could do about it. I chose a career path that would make financial goals incredibly difficult, and I was having only moderate success with being a website developer and consultant in my limited spare time.

I literally avoided my finances all the time. I couldn’t pay my student loan bills. I couldn’t pay my speeding tickets. I tried to keep low balances on my credit cards, but I still needed to take out an expensive cash advance from a credit card a few times to pay my bills.

This was not a good space, and the more I ignored it, the more I avoided stress and distress.

At least for a time. The growing mess eventually collapsed, and my financial problems were now an acute situation that I needed to resolve through drastic measures.

Now, despite writing about finances for more than a decade, I still can’t say my relationship with money is one hundred percent healthy. My life and my financial approach and philosophies have improved a great deal. I worked hard to build some success for myself.

But I still struggle.

When I started getting my financial life into shape, I took some good advice, advice I share often. I started tracking everything I spent and everything I earned, entering every single transaction into a program that could let me take a snapshot of my financial condition at any instance.

The software helped me track my progress as I paid down my student loans, and as I saw my net worth increasing, month after month once I had a job whose salary covered my basic expenses, and year after year as I continued along a path of making good financial choices, I enjoyed seeing those exponentially growing bar charts.

So maybe there was a hint of the money status script as I gained some happiness from a growing net worth. I never thought thought that my increasing net worth was linked to an increasing self-value or value to society, but when my future started looking bright, when I thought that I had a chance to some day be financially independent and free to pursue my dreams without a burden, that positive attitude kept me motivated.

But today, theoretically financial independent, I still fret. Nothing is permanent. No success will last forever. I can’t help thinking sometimes that this is the best it will ever be for me. And when challenges arise, as one did as I was going through the process of selling my business, I get concerned that my success thus far, as modest as it is compared to others who have made a name for themselves in this business, makes me a target.

And now, going through a problem with my apartment wherein I may be only partially covered by insurance, and I may have to turn to the help of an attorney, the distress shows itself again.

Money vigilance is how I’d describe my money script, starting from the day I decided to get my finances in order, tracking nearly every cent, to today, when I’m trying to protect what I have for my future. But this is basically a self-diagnosis.

The availability of information makes self-diagnosis an interesting way to evaluate oneself and can occasionally lead to insight and an improved outlook on life. This just highlights the importance of seeing a professional who has the training to provide effective tools and mechanisms for dealing with psychological issues.

Between vigilance and stress, I haven’t really had a chance to enjoy my success thus far in life. Once I get through my current problems, I need to focus more on this aspect of my life.

Seeing a financial psychologist would be a good idea for me — and failing that, going back to seeing a standard psychologist could help me as well. When I was going through the sale of my business and was dealing with stressful litigation, I started seeing a psychologist to deal with some of the stress and my irrational thoughts.

It was a helpful experience, and I would have continued the therapy longer if my health insurance provider didn’t change. My psychologist was not covered by the new insurance plan, but others were. It’s a poor excuse for stopping therapy, but at the time, the acute condition had ended and I felt prepared to move on.

Each of these money scripts can result in harmful financial behavior. And at least three of the four have applied to me in various ways throughout my adult life.

Do any of the four money scripts describe you? And would you seek professional guidance from a financial psychologist?

How does financial psychology fit in with an overall financial plan or an overall approach to personal health?

New York Times

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One of the oft repeated mantras in leadership training is to surround yourself with people who understand you and support what you do. This philosophy translates well to people who need emotional support for any endeavor, even if one’s goal is to just keep living. Everybody needs support, and everybody needs to feel that someone is on their side. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by life, but when you have someone you can share your troubles with, someone who is empathetic to you and your situation, you have a strong advantage for survival.

Entrepreneurs and business leaders often find that they have difficulty finding other people who relate to their particular flavor of struggle. And people who coach these entrepreneurs and business leaders believe strongly, and work hard to convince these entrepreneurs and business leaders, that they are unique flowers whose internal processes are not understood by the “average” person. And because the average person doesn’t “get it,” the average person is not in a position to offer constructive feedback.

I’ve been subjected to leadership training that takes this to another level. There is a movement that encourages business leaders an interesting philosophy — to ignore people who disagree, and dismiss these people simply because they don’t “get it,” whatever “it” might be. I unfortunately worked for a boss who took this to the extreme. It’s not hard to do when your organization is strongly focused on a mission that requires an initial leap of faith. The best way to operate an organization like this, particularly in the nonprofit world, is to surround yourself with people who believe in the mission as strongly as you do. If that mission is tied closely to the business leader’s personal values, the result is an organization of people who trust the leader explicitly and implicitly, and are often afraid to offer any dissenting opinions.

This crowd, who motivational speakers encourage you to create as your closest entourage, could be called your “positive posse.” I tried to find anyone who has used that phrase to refer to this concept, but couldn’t quickly find any prior use, so this author is claiming it.

With my business, I’ve done a few things that could have been considered crazy. Ten years ago, I began spending a lot of time building Consumerism Commentary. It became more than just a hobby; it was a job — a job I enjoyed — that was earning money. I thought it could earn me a living some day. This was at a time that there were not a large amount of people earning money from writing on their own website. This was before multi-million dollar blogs, this was before people could earn five million dollars a year from advertising by sharing videos about opening toys on YouTube.

I could have encountered a lot of resistance from people who “get” blogging. Maybe it was just who I was originally surrounding myself, but I never felt that someone didn’t understand what I was doing and see the potential. For me, the idea that the general public can’t understand the struggle of an entrepreneur and his crazy ideas was a myth.

That’s not to say that everyone thought I was making a smart decision regarding how I was spending my time. But they understood it, and they supported me. And I listened. I welcomed other people’s well-considered criticisms. If you don’t, if you shut out opinions of people you trust if they don’t agree with you from the outset, you’re setting yourself up for missing opportunities and making mistakes.

In November 2012, the Republican candidate for President of the United States, Mitt Romney, lost the election. According to reports, the loss blind-sided him. He and his closest advisers were not just optimistic about Romney’s win, but convinced it was the only likely outcome. There may be a number of possible reasons why Romney lost, but what’s important here is why he wrongly believed he would surely win.

Romney’s positive posse shaped his view of the election. The campaign advisers ignored signs that pointed to an impending loss. They focused on goals Romney was likely to achieve in order to build his confidence and personal momentum. In effect, the positive attitude and willful ignorance prevalent among the top advisers shielded him from reality. Aides saw polling results they didn’t necessarily agree with, and blamed the methodology rather than recognizing the situation.

This is a result of the “positive posse” approach. When you have no tolerance for dissent, you encourage the people closest to you to be “yes-men.” If your closest advisers (or for non-politicians, closest friends) are afraid to bring you bad news or identify opportunities for improvement, you will continue to operate without much change or adaptation. Adaptation is one of the single most important factors for long-term success.

By the time I quit my day job to write for Consumerism Commentary full-time, there was no one who would have told me it was a bad idea. I had all ready proven the concept that I could make a living from creating an online publication, and by that time, it wasn’t as crazy an idea it had been years prior. And over the years, most people understood that there was a potential, even if they didn’t believe I was handling the opportunity the best way possible.

When I spoke to those who had ideas that were different than mine, I listened. I considered. I adjusted. The business wouldn’t have succeeded without advice from trusted friends and colleagues who had some suggestions that were different than how I would have handled the business on my own.

For example, I may not have considered pivoting towards a revenue-building approach that focused primarily on affiliate sales. I was happy taking advertisers’ money for banner advertising, but the idea of being paid a fee when readers became customers of a partner made me hesitate. I wasn’t sure if I could write about companies honestly if there were a chance of being paid more for convincing customers to sign up with that company. Eventually, I found a way I could be comfortable with that idea, and ensure that my business continued to operate in line with my values.

But I never would have taken advantage of that opportunity, and I may not have been as financially successful, if I had allowed myself to dismiss those who criticized me as people who just didn’t “get it.” If I limited my business discussions to be only with those who were working in the same way I was, we would probably continue reinforcing each other’s beliefs without growth. This positive posse, devoid of dissent, would have prevented me from realizing the business’s potential.

This doesn’t apply only to business owners and entrepreneurs. If you don’t allow yourself to receive criticism, you will find it more difficult to pay off debt, you may never reach financial independence, and you might not be able to live your life differently.

Years before I founded Consumerism Commentary, I had to start listening to people who disagreed with me. I was fine ignoring speeding tickets and increasing bills, but my world collapsed, and I had to start facing the criticism I had been receiving by those closest to me. I needed to learn to live my life differently. I didn’t want to give up my life in nonprofit education, but the critics were right; it was time for me to try something else, at least for a period of time.

This process hasn’t changed. For the last decade, I’ve written a lot about using discount brokerages and buying low-cost index mutual funds. And that’s still the approach that I recommend for just about everyone. In fact, my father called me up recently to talk about what he should do with his money. I reminded him I am not a financial planner or adviser, but he trusted me anyway. I told him that a mix of stock and bond index mutual funds is still what I would do.

Despite this philosophy, a friend who (through marriage) has considerably more money than I do pointed out that even those small Vanguard management fees add up in a large portfolio, and you can beat those management fees by setting up trades of individual stocks that can imitate the index funds. So over the last month or so, I’ve been looking into changing the way I manage my own money.

I wouldn’t have explored different investment options if I were to offhandedly dismiss everyone who doesn’t believe that index funds are the best approach to investing every time for everyone. It would be easy to ignore these dissenters because on a professional level I deal almost exclusively with people who do believe the same thing I’ve been writing about for more than a decade.

Seth Godin, usually quoted by people who tend not to take dissenting opinions well, recently offered the following:

It’s quite natural to be defensive in the face of criticism. After all, the critic is often someone with an agenda that’s different from yours. But advice, solicited advice from a well-meaning and insightful expert? If you confuse that with criticism, you’ll leave a lot of wisdom on the table. Here’s a simple way to process advice: Try it on.

Do you have a positive posse? How do you deal with people who vocally disagree with your choices?

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An estimated 9.1% of the population in the United States have symptoms of depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Depressive illnesses are more than just being sad occasionally. Among people with depression, there is a measurable chemical imbalance in their brands, and this prevents signals from being transmitted from neuron to neuron correctly. So depression changes how people think. And any obstacle to rational decision-making has significant long-term effects on an individual’s quality of life. As a family’s financial situation is one of the primary concerns of this blog and a primary factor in the quality of one’s life, it stands that depression can cause difficulties with money worth a discussion here.

Although depression is often chronic, it can be triggered by external events, or at least correlated to life factors. One of these factors is state of employment; the longer someone is out of work and looking for a job, there is a higher probability of that person showing symptoms of depression. To be certain, the CDC study shows 21.5% of unemployed persons in the United States have depression, compared to 6.6% of the employed population. Of those unable to work 39.3% have depression.

A cycle exists that makes depression particularly dangerous, even when putting aside the increased risk for self-harm, suicide, or violent behavior. Frequent or consistent financial problems, stemming from the loss of a job, a divorce, a bankruptcy, health problems, or a variety of other reasons, can lead to depression’s chemical imbalances. Those imbalance can prevent what others might consider “clear thinking,” the type of cognitive abilities that might, in other situations, be able to help people improve their finances. And that frustrating mental condition can lead to more financial trouble, keeping the depression persistent.

In some cases, people have the ability to adjust their thinking on their own, and change their circumstances — or at least, change the way they perceive their circumstances. There was an example of this recently in a story on CNN Money:

When Ray Camp lost his job at a Dell supplier at the height of the recession, it took a toll on his soul and his family. After nearly four years of looking, all he found was 16 hours of work every other week at a company fours away from his home in Nashville, Tenn.

He was crushingly depressed and felt worthless. His sour mood made him difficult to be around, putting a strain on his family. His story is a familiar one among the 3.1 million Americans who have been unemployed for more than six months…

In February, Camp finally decided he was no longer a failed job applicant but a new retiree. After four years, he had embraced retirement and started collecting social security since he had also turned 62. “Once I finally got into the mindset that I’d never have to face rejection again, I started to feel 100%,” said Camp, who now spends the hours he lost on job searches playing with his grandchildren and mowing his lawn.

For some people with depression, the mindset change is only possible with therapy or medication. In fact, the CDC distinguishes between “major depression” and “other depression,” and it is this “major depression” that is less likely to be overcome through nothing more than a decision to look on the bright side of life.

The Suicide Awareness Voices of Education group explains the differences between a healthy brain and a brain with depression:

A person living with depression does not always have the same thoughts as a healthy person. This chemical imbalance can lead to the person not understanding the options available to help them relieve their suffering. Many people who suffer from depression report feeling as though they’ve lost the ability to imagine a happy future, or remember a happy past. Often they don’t realize they’re suffering from a treatable illness, and seeking help may not even enter their mind. Emotions and even physical pain can become unbearable.

It should thus be no surprise that depression can become an obstacle not only to financial independence but to basic financial stability.

Depression affects your performance at your job. Motivation is a casualty of depression, so this affects how you work, if you do happen to have a job. Motivation is crucial for performing as you’re expected to perform at your job. As depression goes untreated, it may be difficult to hold onto that job.

Depression affects your spending. With depression, people may seek behaviors that heighten their sense of pleasure to counteract the general depressive moods. One method of self-therapy involves spending money. Buying things and experience can create a high feeling that masks emotional pain, at least temporarily. “Retail therapy” is a common type of self-medication, so to speak. And the temporary feeling of satisfaction gained from buying a present is more powerful than the reasoning and logic behind the idea of spending only what you can afford.

Depression can increase debt. From spending more than you earn in order to feel good to the lack of an expectation of feeling good when paying off debt, depression can lead to a larger portion of one’s life spent in debt or accruing new debt. Debt severely limits your options in life, and when in combination with unemployment, it can leave you with nothing over the long-term.

Treating depression can be expensive. Stories like the one in CNN Money about someone overcoming depression on his own are not the norm. Dealing with major depression requires professional help. And doctors are not cheap. Health insurance comes in handy when paying for psychologist visits or medication, but many with depression are not working. Until the Affordable Care Act, citizens in the United States have typically relied on employer assistance to subsidize the expense of health care, but the Act may be ushering in a new era in which individuals manage their own health care insurance, with the potential for subsidies from other taxpayers. Regardless, treatment is expensive, and those needing the treatment may not be in the best position to afford the help they need. Thus, they don’t get the help, and depression and its financial effects continue.

I think the best thing that those of us without depression can do is to learn to be somewhat empathetic towards those who do. We, who are often too smart for our own good, expect people to be able to make rational decisions about their lives, and I’ve seen many people get frustrated when people in their lives do not act in responsible ways with their finances. We want to believe in personal responsibility and accountability, where good results come about from hard work and good decision-making, and where people have the capability of improving their lives. We want people to be able to take action. We want people to control the way they react to certain situations.

We want people to “choose happy.”

But depression is one of many things that prevent people from seeing these “truths” that we want so much to share with the world.

It took me a long time, but I now live under the philosophy that happiness isn’t something that needs to be sought, it’s just a choice. I can always choose how I react to any situation in which I find myself. But every once in a while, I still have to remind myself that this is not a choice everyone is free to make at every moment. The ability to make a choice rests on the brain’s ability to make neurological connections, and that ability can be impaired.

Read the latest CDC report on depression.

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I grew up in competition. It was a part of my life, all over the place. And sometimes competition moved me to push my self far, motivating me to be excellent, and in other cases, competition broke down my will to excel. An individual reacts to competition different depending on the psychological factors, the situation, and how past competitions have played out. Because competition is everywhere in the world, particularly in a career or a quest for financial independence — not to mention just meeting personal goals one might set for oneself — look for ways to make competition work towards a positive outcome.

I wrote recently about one particular competitive experience. When I first began learning to play a musical instrument in school, we were seated by our perceived abilities. I was last in the row, worst clarinetist in the class. And I didn’t enjoy playing music for school, even though I had been musical at home. The following year, my family moved to a new location and a new school, and at this new school, I had a head start because my classmates were just beginning to pick up their instruments. Suddenly I was at the head of the class. And just as suddenly, I loved playing music again.

Year after year through high school, I continued playing, and continued working hard to stay the best. I was the “first chair,” and constantly faced challenges from friends who wanted to take my seat. To keep my position, I had to practice hard and stay focused on being the best. I eventually decided to study music education in college. Had I stayed in my first elementary school, it’s unlikely I’d ever pursue music as a career.

Competition was a main theme for me in high school. Another example happens to be related to music as well; our marching band competed with other similar marching bands from other schools throughout the northeast. Not every teacher agrees that competition of this type is useful in an educational setting. But competition exists in the real world, and learning how to deal with competition as a teenager might be a good way to prepare. We compete for jobs, we compete for money, we compete for recognition, and as is coming more clear to me with social media like Facebook, we compete to have admirable lives among our friends.

In the marching band world, competition was tightly controlled. One group competed against another only if they were similar in terms of size. Today, there are even more guidelines for appropriate competition — not only is size a factor, but so is funding, so a hundred-member band with twenty staff members available to focus on separate aspects of the performance doesn’t compete directly with a hundred-member band making do with only two teachers who have to do everything on their own.

Competition presents some challenges, in work and in life.

But when we compare ourselves to other people, we are often unaware of advantages, whether they are our own or of others. I can’t think of a time when I competed directly with a coworker for a promotion, but this happens all the time. And when faced with competition like this, some people shut down and give up, others rise to the occasion. If you tend to get motivated by competition in work situations, are you also using competition in social situations to motivate you?

Facebook recently conducted a social experiment on its users (without their knowledge but with the consent that comes in the form of agreeing to a contract when you sign up for an account). The news feed showed mostly positive status updates to some users and mostly negative updates to some users, and saw that users’ own moods (as measured by additional status updates) were affected by the tone of the updates they saw. On top of this, Facebook is a chance for people to market themselves to their friends and to feel good about themselves. Thus, people tend to share personal good news more often than bad news. People are more likely to use Facebook to tell the world “I got the promotion!” or “I got engaged!” when appropriate, but when a situation would call for announcing “She turned me down for a date!” or “I failed the bar!” chances are you won’t see it.

All of this makes it difficult to live up to the implied social competition. Even without Facebook, it looks like everyone’s life is better than yours. That’s only because you primarily about the good things that happens in someone’s life, while you still experience bad things even if you don’t share them with your extended group of friends.

Make competition work for you in your career.

You compete for a new job, you compete for recognition with your work, and you compete when you own a business. Without good experiences with competition in the past, there is a good chance that taking the easy way out is safer emotionally.

Steal a technique from video games. When you play a video game that’s based on progressing through a series of levels, you start out easy. You’re able to overcome initial obstacles, and as your abilities improve, you are able to face tougher challenges. The game takes you through a series of levels, training as you go to handle difficulties. You don’t get thrown to the wolves on your initial attempt.

In real life, you may not be able to choose your competition. But you can set your expectations so they match your abilities. I wouldn’t think I’d be able to compete for a first-chair position at the New York Philharmonic without first being the best clarinetist at my university (and I wasn’t). I wouldn’t think I’d be able to compete for a job in charge of a non-profit with someone who has been leading non-profits for thirty years — but I could take a different approach and start my own.

It also helps to keep a larger goal — or a mission — in mind. You may not always be recognized for your hard work, whether the recognition comes in the form of a promotion, a salary increase, an award, or even just getting a job. But if you’re doing what you need to be doing, you’re improving yourself whether other people see it or not. It can be demotivating when you constantly perform competitively and others seem to refuse to recognize how well you are doing. There are many reasons why people are rewarded for their actions, and sometimes it has nothing to do with your particular performance.

Don’t take other people’s achievements personally.

The competition to have the best life is one you can never win. If you’re feeling pressure from other people’s successes you read about on Facebook, and it’s affecting your emotions negatively, either stop reading Facebook or keep in mind that everyone who shares anything personal is automatically biased. Everyone wants to project a favorable appearance.

Not everything has to be a competition. You don’t have to be the first person among your friends to reach an important life milestone. You don’t have to show off everything that you’re happy about. People live their lives at different speeds and have different goals. You shouldn’t live your life based on anyone else’s personal achievements.

Stop comparing yourself and your life to others, and I guarantee you’ll be happier and better able to focus on achieving your own goals, whether in your career or in your life. If you’re focusing more on yourself, you’ll be able to see competition for what it is: something healthy that can spur you to move forward.

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Want to Fail? Ignore Survivorship Bias.

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Whether you’re making a decision that has apparent, immediate consequences that could affect the rest of your life, like deciding to quit your job and open a business, or making a purchasing decision big or small, it is worthwhile to gather information and think about the future. When you gather information, you have to be ... Continue reading this article…

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Always Ask Questions

Last Thursday, I drove to the place that was my home for four formative years of my life, my undergraduate university. I’ve written before about how the degree and overall course of study during college isn’t directly related to what I do today. Nevertheless, I still feel strongly about the importance of music and arts ... Continue reading this article…

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Happiness - 8 scientifically proven principles

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by Luke Landes
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Everyone starts their path to financial independence from a different position. The popular belief that everyone born in this country has an equal opportunity for financial success is a Utopian myth. It may be an ideal foremost in early European settlers’ minds as they escaped a society where wealth was determined by little more than ... Continue reading this article…

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It’s difficult to get into this topic without sounding too much like a motivational speaker. I am strongly averse to most motivational training. Here’s my problem: Motivational training, in the corporate world, encourages teamwork — good — but often at the expense of personal identity and independent thinking — bad. The nuances are subtle, though; ... Continue reading this article…

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by Marc Pearlman
Poker chips

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