Think back to the last time you purchased something—the holidays are just barely in the rearview mirror, so maybe pick something from this past season. 

Now ask yourself: why did you buy it?

It’s likely your answer has something to do with making the recipient happy or bringing joy to someone else. 

If so, you bought that item to fulfill or inspire an emotion—and unsurprisingly, that’s the underlying motivation for most people’s buying decisions in the U.S. 

In his book, The Subconscious Mind of The Consumer (and How To Reach It), Harvard Business school professor Gerald Zaltzman says that 95% of purchasing decisions happen in the subconscious mind and are driven by emotions.

Emotions are a powerful force and can drastically impact how you view your money daily. Strung together into a series of learned habits and decisions, these emotions can turn into what psychologists call “money scripts.” 

Money scripts represent unconscious beliefs that can drive both positive and negative financial behaviors. 

What Are Money Scripts and How They Influence Your Behavior

Money scripts often represent people’s thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and decisions toward money. The interesting thing is that you’ve been developing these scripts for your entire life. Every financial encounter has played a role in shaping how you view money today. 

Your money scripts may reveal whether you’re a spender or a saver, how comfortable you are with taking on financial risk, your willingness to share your finances with your partner, how important money is to you, etc. 

You’ve been creating and writing your money scripts ever since you were a child. Think back to how your parents or parental figures talked to you about money. 

  • Was money a taboo subject in your house, or did you discuss money openly?
  • What did you learn about money from your parents? Did they keep their finances separate, combined, or a combination? Did one person “hide” purchases from the other? Were they strong financial partners?
  • Were you aware of financial hardships? What financial role did you play in your household (i.e., did you have to work to support your family)?

If money was a scarce resource in your house, perhaps that experience contributed to you being more risk-averse today. Or maybe your family never talked about money, so it’s difficult for you to open up about your finances with your partner or even your financial planner. 

By taking a step back and examining how your family discussed money in your formative years, you can get a baseline for why you’ve made the choices you have today. 

How Can You Use Your Experience To Teach Your Kids About Money?

Since money is such an important topic, you must also think about how you want to teach your kids about money. You want them to learn how to save, spend, and invest intentionally and think about money as a tool to help them reach their goals. Think through these questions:

  • What financial lessons do you wish you knew earlier on in your life?
  • How would you handle money differently with your family versus when you were younger?
  • What financial habits do you want your kids to inherit from you? Which ones do you want them to avoid?

These questions can help you think more critically about teaching your kids the value of money and helping them develop their own money scripts that help them live their best lives.  

While money scripts can be revealing, they aren’t financial fortune tellers—they can simply expose patterns and thoughts; it’s up to you to recognize what they are and make intentional choices that put you on the best path. 

You can inherit amazing financial traits from your family, but financial fears and worries also tend to show up, perhaps when you least expect them to.

Emotional Decision-Making Can Lead To Money Problems

Emotions can be wonderful additions to your financial life—they can help you use your money in ways that leave you feeling fulfilled and joyful. 

But emotions and money can also cause some friction and frustration along the way. It’s so common for emotions to drive negative financial actions, including: 

  • Emotional investing. Emotions and investing aren’t a winning combination. When emotions are high or low, it can lead to decisions that aren’t driven by logic, rather by fear, overconfidence, anxiety, and more. Investing with your emotions can lead you to stray from your long-term plan and make choices that put your future at risk. Learn more about our top investing principles and why we believe in them!
  • Emotional spending. You’ve likely heard about the concept of retail therapy—buying something to try and make you feel better. While you may get a momentary rush, that feeling will fade and could lead to more stress and anxiety when it comes time to pay your bills. 
  • Putting money “on hold.” There’s so much uncertainty with money; no one knows exactly what will happen in the future. The best we can do is create a deliberate, strategic, and intentional plan to maximize your resources. But sometimes, this fear of the unknown can bring about a lot of anxiety and leave people paralyzed with worry and unable to make the decisions they need to.
  • Giving in to feelings of shame. It’s completely normal to feel self-conscious about money—it’s a personal and emotional thing! But self-consciousness can quickly morph into shame and avoidance, which may mean that you put financial tasks on the back burner, like waiting to start investing, not getting the right insurance coverage, putting off your estate plan, etc. 

Emotions aren’t inherently good or bad; they simply are part of your experience. When you recognize them, you put yourself in the best position to control your emotions, not let them control you. You will probably face financial fears and anxiety throughout your life, but learning how to navigate those emotions will help you make the best and healthiest decisions moving forward. 

How To Take Control of Your Money Emotions and Use Them For Good (Not Evil)

You know that emotions are bound to try and stand in your way at some point, so what can you do about it?

First, take a deep breath and realize that you’re in good company; everyone has positive and negative money-related emotions that can lead them to make not-so-savvy decisions.

Start by taking a step back and imagining how you would feel in the following situations:

  • How does earning money make you feel? 
    • Do you feel powerful, stressed, guilty, etc.? Try to be as specific as possible!
  • What does money mean to you? 
    • Maybe money means freedom, opportunity, or possibilities. It could also mean security, safety, etc.
  • How comfortable are you spending your money? 
    • Do you get stressed out by your monthly bills, or are you living comfortably within your means?
  • How do you feel about volatile markets (when the markets go up and go down)?
    • Do you find yourself unable to sleep, constantly refreshing financial projections, considering making drastic changes to your portfolio?
  • When you think about your financial future, what emotions come to mind?
    • Are you excited, anxious, impatient, etc.?
  • How do you feel about meeting with a financial professional?
    • Does the idea of having professional guidance make you feel safe, excited, nervous, etc.?

As you move through each of these questions, be sure to note your feelings and explore them in-depth. 

While some emotional triggers can lead to positive activities like saving and preparing for the future, others can cause negative behaviors like avoidance, overspending, and emotional investing. 

But don’t be fooled; even positive emotions like self-confidence and optimism can lead to adverse outcomes like taking on too much investment risk or not properly preparing for the future.

Here are a few other ways you can gain control over your emotions about money:

  • Build financial strategies to help neutralize your emotions during stressful periods, like rocky markets, emergencies, or a period of income loss. 
  • Automate your monthly savings and investing to workplace retirement plans, brokerage accounts, 529 accounts, emergency savings, and more to help you stay on track. 
  • Check-in with your money regularly. Creating and maintaining a family budget isn’t always easy, but it can hold you accountable and help lay the foundation for positive financial decisions.
  • Give yourself grace. Everyone makes mistakes, and you’ll likely make some along the way. Be willing to forgive yourself, learn from the error, and move on.
  • Work with a professional to help guide you along the way and act as a sounding board when stressful or exciting situations emerge. We love helping people navigate critical life transitions like heading off to college or funding their dream retirement. It’s so freeing to have someone in your corner who can help you use your money in the most prosperous ways for you. 

Our Team Can Help

Money and emotions can become a tangled mess—like holiday lights sitting in the attic for 11 months. But it’s our job to help you untangle your emotions about wealth and guide you to developing fruitful strategies for the future.

Money will never stop being emotional, and we’re prepared to walk by your side and help you make the best choices for your family each step of the way. If you’re interested in diving deeper into your money scripts, you’re in luck! All of our clients will have the opportunity to engage in a money script assessment that explores the unique way you view money. Unearthing this knowledge will enable us to tailor our services and deepen our relationship, so we can help you build a meaningful wealth plan that’s specific to your needs.

If you’d like to talk more about the role emotions play in your financial life, set up a call with our team today. We can’t wait to help you harness the power of your emotions—and use it to make your life better. 

Get in touch with us today!



The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes and should not be construed as specific investment, financial planning, tax, accounting, or legal advice. Please consult with a professional advisor before taking any action based on the contents of this article. All investment and financial planning strategies involve the risk of loss that you should be prepared to bear. We cannot guarantee any investment performance whatsoever, and past performance is not indicative of potential future returns.

Originally posted 8/2016

Updated 1/2022