Excerpt: 'The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge'

To learn their lines, actors must repeat them over and over. Few actors, no matter how talented, can read a script once and then deliver a flawless performance. They must practice frequently. In a similar way, the depth of any money script depends on the frequency and intensity of the original event or financial trauma. A child who hears his mother voice concern once about how the family business may fail and that they may not have money for food will probably not internalize a damaging money script. However, if the child hears his mother voice that fear monthly, weekly or daily, the result could be a deeply held belief that will influence the child's behavior well into adulthood. Our deepest, most ingrained money scripts are often formed by such examples of financial trauma.

For example, when Brenda was eight years old, she, unlike the rest of her siblings, saved her money. When the rest of the family needed money, they robbed her piggy bank.

Sounds sad but innocent enough, right? But little Brenda internalized the same message that Scrooge internalized: "You can't trust anyone with your money." This worked for both Scrooge and Brenda as children. However, as adults, the results of this money script didn't work for either of them—although the results for Brenda were very different from Scrooge's.

As an adult, Brenda earns $250,000 a year. She needs only $100,000 to support her preferred lifestyle, but she spends the entire amount each year. She doesn't use many of the things she buys. She spends all of her money rather than saves or invests it because of an unconscious fear that others will take it away. This old belief is reinforced when her parents and siblings frequently call and want her to bail them out of some financial dilemma. By never having any money in the bank, she can say no when her siblings ask her for money. Unfortunately, spending money as quickly as she gets it makes her just like them—always broke.

Money scripts internalized in childhood can affect our beliefs and behaviors well into adulthood.

Why Money Scripts Are So Powerful

Brenda's belief, originating from a child's perspective of an experience, created a money script that is still affecting her today. Brenda's subconscious belief is keeping her from achieving success. She neglects to save for her future. So, while she is enjoying the fruits of her labors, her inability to say no to her family and her failure to save jeopardize her financial future. Worse, because it is mostly unconscious, Brenda isn't even aware that this money script is sabotaging her career goals and dreams for her own family. Instead, she feels a vague sense of dissatisfaction and failure because she knows she should be saving and investing for her future, but can't.

When we met Brenda, she thought the answer to saving money was to earn more; then she could save. The problem was that she had been saying the same thing to herself as she moved up the salary scale from $50,000 to $100,000 to $150,000 to $250,000. To us, it was obvious that the solution lay elsewhere, in her basic money script.

People are generally unaware of their money scripts and how their self-defeating behaviors are linked to them.

Often, these messages learned during childhood are buried so deeply that the individual doesn't know about or question the belief, even when acting on it causes him or her repeated problems.

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