Ashamed of the way you are about money?

Old financial ‘scripts’ could be to blame

Early money messages may be responsible for some of the self-defeating things we do – or don’t do – with our money.

It’s the dirty little secret that keeps so many people awake at night – the sense of being powerless to make your money do what you want it to. Worse yet, you feel embarrassed and ashamed that you can’t keep up with the neighbors’ apparent financial success.

Yet there’s a good chance you just can’t help it. According to recent research by Vancouver’s Seymour Consulting, your financial choices as an adult tend to be influenced by the way you interpreted money-related experiences as you were growing up.

You’re probably not aware of these ‘money scripts’, but they can have a powerful effect on your financial behaviour – maybe hindering you from reducing debt, following a spending plan or saving for retirement.

Unaware of this, you may feel ashamed that you can’t seem to manage the 21st century survival skill of money mastery. Instead of fessing up and asking for help, you find it less embarrassing to just fake the financial confidence that everyone else seems to flaunt.

As one harried consumer told Eloise Duncan, CEO of Seymour Consulting, ‘It’s shameful to feel financially strapped. It’s better to keep this a secret, and put up a non-needy “I’m financially OK” front.’

You’re not acting on your own – you’re following a money script

We’re all influenced by money scripts. We ourselves ‘wrote’ them, based on beliefs about money we absorbed from parents, peers or cultural influences while we were young – beliefs that may be valid, partly true or completely mistaken, says psychologist and financial therapy specialist Maggie Baker, a Philadelphia-based associate of Seymour Consulting.

Later, in adulthood, we’re driven to think or act in ways that let us avoid fears, pain or insecurities linked to those old scripts. This behaviour is perfectly understandable, explains Baker, the author of Crazy About Money: How Emotions Confuse Our Money Choices and What To Do About It.

The problem is that shame keeps us stuck in our old ruts. Sensing that we’re financially out of control is so embarrassing on a deeply personal, intimate level that we can’t bring ourselves to deal with it or even admit it to ourselves or anybody else.

Keeping mum about money stress is no small matter. Some 38% of adult Canadians don’t share their money worries with anyone, according to an extensive Financial Health Index survey conducted by Seymour Consulting in 2017.

But while clamming up protects us against airing insecurities we’re ashamed of, it also prevents us from addressing old scripts that lock us into self-defeating behaviour. One alarming result, Duncan notes, is that parents unwittingly pass along destructive money beliefs to their kids.

For instance, one 29-year-old professional told Duncan that his parents had always warned him their financial stability was fragile. As the son’s career took off, he became ashamed of wanting to outdo his folks and worried about how long his own success would last. Only by working with a counsellor and a career coach after years of struggle has he been able to free himself from the shame and doubt of these self-limiting beliefs.

You may need a hand to ‘rewrite’ negative scripts

Discovering and working with old money scripts often takes deliberate, focused work. This may involve psychological and/or financial counselling, education and dialogue.

“My work focuses on helping people develop a sense of worth, which is the opposite of shame,” explains Vancouver clinical counsellor and financial therapist Jose Jaime Guerrero.

In Guerrero’s experience, most people feel being deeply in debt to be the ultimate disempowering and shame-inducing situation. Using his CPA training, the Seymour Consulting associate works with them to transition from owing money into owning assets. What’s at stake, he believes, isn’t just financial health, but also helping people regain control of their lives.

Duncan notes that financial institutions and advisors also need to encourage deeper conversations with their customers and work harder to support them in times of financial hardship. ‘This will mean building trust with a different, more human financial services approach,’ she says.


The importance of ‘money shame’ awareness

Research and analysis on ‘money shame’ was developed collaboratively by Eloise Duncan, Maggie Baker and Jose Jaime Guerrero of Seymour Consulting. Our long-term goal is to shine a light on the deeper, more emotional aspects of people’s relationship with money, which in turn affect their financial lives, behaviours and overall well-being.

Building on quantitative Financial Health Index research in 2017, we conducted 10 in-depth interviews with Canadians and Americans in the summer of 2018. The findings clarified for us why so many millions of dollars invested in financial education have failed to improve consumer decision-making.

This represents an important reality check for financial institutions, government and other organizations looking to enhance Canadians’ and Americans’ financial literacy and financial wellness. The better we understand consumers’ deeper money beliefs or ‘scripts’, the more effectively we can help them move from money shame to financial resilience and well-being.


For more information:

Eloise Duncan, CMC, MA

Founder, Financial Health Index & Chief Re-Invention Officer

C: 778 846 8626 | T: 604 971 4314

Maggie Baker, PhD

Psychology and Financial Therapy Specialist

Author of Crazy About Money: How Emotions Confuse Our Money Choices and What To Do About It

C: 610 505 7031 | T: 610 896 9651

Jose Jaime Guerrero, MA, RCC

Principal, Currency of the Mind

Clinical Counsellor, Financial Therapist, CPA

T: 604.732.6933 or 1.800.667.0993 ext. 3713

‘Money Shame: The Hidden Threat to Financial Wellness,’ Seymour Consulting white paper, November 2018. 

‘Financial Wellbeing Remains Challenged in Canada: Highlights from the 2018 Financial Health Index study’, report on the Canadian Financial Health Index Study, Center for Financial Services Innovation, October 2018.

‘Focusing on the Financial Health and Resilience of Canadians’, report on the Canadian Financial Health Index Study, Center for Financial Services Innovation, October 2017.