Our oft-told money stories

Money isn’t real. It’s just an agreed-upon system of exchange.

Have you ever heard that? 

This is the realisation that many reach when feeling frustrated with tax systems, witnessing social injustice or experiencing the unfairness of life. While money and currency systems may not be real, they represent value and help us form and communicate meaning.

Money is interwoven with our stories of life and meaning.

“We tell ourselves a story about how we got that money, what it says about us, what we’re going to do with it and how other people judge us.\” – Seth Godin

These stories are valuable and help us attach meaning, but they can also keep us stuck in an unhealthy relationship with our money. They reveal deeper beliefs that we have about money but don’t always say out loud. They are foundational to our choices and the way we perceive ourselves and others.

Some of these beliefs include thoughts like “I will be happier if I have more money”, “It’s not polite to talk about money with others”, and “Money corrupts people”.

A team of researchers from Kansas State University interviewed hundreds of people to find out what kinds of stories are common to most of us and compiled a list of four stories (they called them scripts) that help us identify our money mindset. According to a blog on careerattraction.com, they go a little like this:

  1. Avoidance

Individuals with an avoidance mindset assume a “head in the sand” approach to managing money — all things being equal, they’d rather not deal with it.

For the avoider, money stirs up feelings of fear, anxiety and disgust. They often don’t know what’s in their accounts and may not open their credit card statements when they come in the mail.

People with an avoidance mindset may think and say things like:

  • “I don’t deserve a lot of money when others have less than me.”
  • “If I’m rich, I’ll never know what people really want from me.”
  • “There is virtue in living with less money.”
  • “As long as I keep working hard, I won’t ever have to worry about money”


  1. Worship

The worship mindset is most commonly associated with the belief that “things would be better if one had more money.”

Has that thought ever crossed your mind? If so, you’re not alone. According to the research, this is the single most common belief. People with a worship mindset tend to attribute current unhappiness or dissatisfaction with a lack of money and, accordingly, believe that a higher salary or financial windfall would solve their current problems.

People with a worship mindset may think and say things like:

  • “You can never have enough money.”
  • “Money is power.”
  • “Things would get better if I had more money.”


  1. Status

Those with a status mindset tend to believe self-worth is linked with net worth. In the context of our core needs, people with this mindset equate money with significance — they use it as a proxy for importance in society. Often, the status mindset manifests as a competitive stance to acquire goods and material possessions, often referred to as a “keeping up with the Joneses.”

People with a status mindset say and think things like:

  • “Look at that expensive car… he must be successful.”
  • “If someone asked, I would probably tell them that I earn more than I actually do.”
  • “Poor people are lazy.”


  1. Vigilance

Those with a vigilant mindset pay very close attention to how much money is coming in and how much money is going out each month. They likely wear labels such as “cheap,” “tight”, and “frugal” with pride.

Those with a vigilant mindset commonly live well below their means – struggling, at times, to get comfortable with spending money on themselves even when they can afford to. Lastly, the money-vigilant are often secretive about their personal finances and may distrust financial institutions.

People with a vigilant mindset say and think things like:

  • “It’s not polite to talk about money.”
  • “Money should be saved, not spent.”
  • “It is extravagant to spend money on myself.”

When we can identify the stories that we tell ourselves, we can choose to tell ourselves different stories that are more accommodating, generous, inclusive and kind – first to ourselves and then to those we care for and are in our extended communities.

Let’s start telling and sharing stories that are unifying, accepting and encouraging.