Most of us have powerful feelings about money. These feelings can make it hard for us to arrive at rational decisions about our money and to keep our relationships harmonious when dealing with money. Some people feel guilty about having too much money; some feel ashamed of not having enough or not making enough. Others are afraid to deal with money at all fearing that it will corrupt them in some way or make them feel inadequate. Still others worry constantly about money, and this worrying affects the quality of their lives — whether they have enough money or not. And some feel a kind of free-floating anxiety about money but have no idea where it’s coming from. It’s common for people to harbor a variety of feelings about money at the same time, and even to switch from one set of feelings to another (e.g., worrying and obsessing about money one day and then completely avoiding the issue of money the next day).
“Money Personality Quiz”
to learn which of the five major money personality types best describes your tendencies.
Just as our feelings about money can vary, so, too, can our behaviors. Some people hoard money; others spend it freely. Some are responsible about attending to daily financial tasks, while others avoid these tasks as much as possible. Certain individuals don’t invest their money at all; others invest conservatively; still others take great financial risks. And finally, some people don’t fit neatly into these categories and exhibit money behaviors that are contradictory (e.g., acting responsibly for several months and then undermining this behavior by going on an out-of-control spending spree).
Can you articulate your own personal feelings about money? Do you have a realistic sense of the money attitudes and behaviors you exhibit in your daily life? This article will help you increase your self-awareness as you gain an overview of your present relationship to money (its strengths as well as its weaknesses) and of your money personality in general. Doing the work in this article represents an important first step in the journey towards money harmony.
Assessing your strengths and weaknesses
Let’s begin by coming up with two lists, one positive and the other negative. On the first list, note two or three areas of your “moneylife” that are a source of pride or pleasure. Here are some typical responses:
- I make enough money to live on.
- I balance my checkbook regularly.
- I’m a generous gift giver.
- I have more than $15,000 in savings.
Now identify two or three aspects of your moneylife that cause you discomfort or even shame. Some typical responses might be:
- I go on shopping binges periodically.
- I procrastinate about paying bills.
- I bounce checks from time to time.
- I’m in debt.
- I have trouble spending money on gifts for myself or loved ones.
I recommend that you keep a record of your responses to these questions — either in writing or on tape. If you’d rather not write down or tape your responses, at least take the time to think about them.
After you’ve finished both lists, ask yourself which list was harder for you to produce. Was it the positive list or the negative one? Your answer will determine where you need to concentrate your attention. For example, if you tend to focus on all your negative traits connected with money — and feel bad about this — more growth and healing will come from acknowledging your positive qualities for a change. And if you tend to deny your negative traits about money (everyone has them I believe, to some degree), you’ll profit from focusing on your negative list.
Aaron, the self-flagellating hoarder.
Many years ago, I gave a workshop in Washington, D.C. One of the participants learned firsthand about the therapeutic value of switching to a new perspective. Aaron was a freelance writer in his sixties who felt incredibly ashamed of being, as he described it, “A stingy, worrywart tightwad” whose wife and two daughters constantly criticized him for these qualities. His negative feelings were so intense that it was impossible for him to make any changes in his relationship to money. But in having to come up with his positive list, he was amazed to find that his hoarding tendency had enabled him to own a house and send both daughters to college on a paltry freelance writer’s salary (his wife didn’t work outside the home). Seeing his tendency to save money in a new light gave him enough self-esteem to focus on the aspects of his hoarding that were not serving him or his family well.
People can’t change when they feel too bad about themselves. Only by validating themselves for their strengths do they have a springboard from which to confront their weaknesses.
Mildred, the spender in denial.
Mildred tended to praise herself for her generosity and to ignore the fact that she was overspending and running up huge credit-card balances. Doing this exercise and focusing on her weaknesses made her uncomfortable initially but gave her an important insight: she realized how out of control her spending had become in the years when she was experiencing marital stress with her husband. She was, for the first time, free to make some changes in her angry, reactive spending habits.
Now that you have your baseline — a general assessment of your current relationship to money — and you know where you need to do your beginning work, you can move on to the “Money Personality Quiz”. By taking this quiz, you will learn which of five major money personality types best describes your tendencies.
Bear in mind that each type has both good qualities and shortcomings, and that most people are in fact a combination of types. There’s no need to worry about the outcome. Instead, try having fun with this quiz.
Record the answers on a separate sheet of paper. For each statement, choose the answer that strikes you first as being closest to your tendencies. There is no right answer. Just be as honest with yourself as you can.
1. If $20,000 came to me unexpectedly, my first impulse would be:
A. To spend it on things I really want, including gifts for others.
B. To put it in my savings account.
C. To feel so overwhelmed that I’d put off making decisions about it for quite a while.
D. To invest it in order to make the biggest profits possible.
E. To give most of it away and use it to make the world a better place.
2. When it comes to dealing with my money:
A. I make sure that it never influences my life choices.
B. I enjoy spending it on gifts for myself and others, and on whatever will give me immediate pleasure.
C. I worry about it a lot and strategize how to make more and more of it.
D. I hold on to it and enjoy thinking about the security it provides.
E. I try not to think about it and hope it will take care of itself.
3. My goals about my money are:
A. To save enough of it now so that I never have to worry about my old age.
B. Unclear to me.
C. To have enough of it to ensure that I can buy whatever I want.
D. To have enough to satisfy my basic needs and then give the rest away.
E. To make as much of it as possible, as quickly as possible.
4. When it comes to following a budget:
A. I rework my budget often to figure out ways to have more money to spend and save.
B. I enjoy following mine closely.
C. I take pride in living so simply that I’ve never needed a budget.
D. I hate the word budget. I prefer spending plan!
E. I don’t have a budget and never want one. My money will take care of itself.
5. When it comes to spending money:
A. I hope I’ll have enough money to take care of unexpected expenses.
B. I enjoy spending money, as long as I keep accumulating it at the same time.
C. I’d rather save my money than spend it. Spending money makes me nervous.
D. I don’t follow where my money goes, and I don’t want to. I focus on more important aspects of my life.
E. I love spending money, and I tend to spend more than I earn.
6. I deal with financial record keeping as follows:
A. I keep reworking my records, to figure out ways to make more money or to make my money work better for me.
B. I’m not even sure which records I should be keeping.
C. I enjoy keeping careful records.
D. I keep some records but have trouble organizing them and finding them.
E. I don’t keep records. I hate to spend my time this way.
7. When it comes to saving money:
A. I know I ought to be saving money, but I never seem to get around to it.
B. I enjoy saving large amounts of money and spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how to save more.
C. I have trouble saving money, and this bothers me sometimes.
D. I save only for absolute necessities.
E. Saving comes naturally to me. I am regular and consistent about it.
8. This is my attitude toward borrowing money:
A. I try not to borrow money, but when I have, I find it hard to keep track of my progress in paying it back.
B. I try never to borrow money from others.
C. I’m willing to borrow large amounts if it will help me make more, but I worry about amassing debt if the profits don’t show up quickly.
D. I’ve borrowed money quite often, and I’m pretty casual about paying it back.
E. I borrow only for absolute necessities.
9. When it comes to lending money:
A. I’m pretty generous and don’t worry too much about when I’ll get it back.
B. People tend not to ask me for money. That suits me fine.
C. I wouldn’t mind lending money, but people hardly ever ask me.
D. I try never to lend money, but if I do, I expect to be paid back promptly.
E. I don’t mind lending money, if I get a good interest rate. I also worry about getting it back on time.
10. As far as credit cards are concerned:
A. I prefer not to have credit cards at all. If I have one, I use it as little as possible.
B. I tend to use credit cards often and make the minimum payment.
C. I don’t mind running up large charges, as long as I can pay them off quickly. I think about my credit card bills a lot.
D. I don’t take much notice of the status of my credit cards. I often forget to pay even the monthly minimum until I get a warning notice.
E. I have always tended to avoid using credit. I prefer paying by cash or check.
11. When it comes to providing for emergencies:
A. I don’t have enough saved to provide for emergencies. I just hope for the best!
B. I have no money set aside for emergencies, and I almost never think about what I would do if something bad were to happen.
C. I keep thinking that I’ll have enough to start saving for emergencies soon, but I’m still not quite there!
D. I’ve put aside a sizable amount for emergencies, but I still worry about them!
E. I try to save regularly for an emergency fund.
12. When it comes to paying my taxes:
A. I scramble to get together some minimal records, just to get the taxes done. I’m always surprised at how much money I owe every year.
B. I save regularly for taxes, and most years I complete my tax return well in advance of the deadline.
C. I hate focusing on taxes and try to get them done with as little fuss as possible.
D. I have trouble saving for taxes and doing my tax return, and I feel strapped every year before the deadline. E. I take pride in having more assets and paying lower taxes every year, if I can.
13. To feel totaly satisfied with my income, this is what I’d need:
A. A few thousand more than I’m making now would be largely sufficient.
B. Increasing my earnings by a large amount every year is what satisfies me — $50,000 a year more would be nice!
C. I suppose I could always use more money, but I have no idea how much more.
D. I feel pretty satisfied with what I make right now. A big increase would make me feel uncomfortable.
E. At least $10,000 to $20,000 more than I’m making now.
14. When it comes to investing in the stock market:
A. I enjoy investing in the stock market, and I like to diversify to maximize my profits.
B. I don’t think about investing very often, but if I did invest, I’d want someone else to make those decisions for me.
C. I choose “safe” and conservative investments.
D. I’m not an expert at investing, but I think it would be fun to invest in more speculative stocks that might offer a high rate of return.
E. I don’t think about investing, but if I made any investments, I’d prefer those that were socially responsible.
15. When I want a certain item but it’s not within my budget:
A. Either I’ll decide I don’t really want it, or I’ll buy it and figure out how to pay for it later.
B. If I want it, I will buy it. I can always figure out a way to pay for it.
C. I will buy it, whether I can afford it or not.
D. Most of the things I want are not expensive luxury items, so I can afford them. If I do want something outrageous, I may buy it, but the purchase will make me feel very uncomfortable.
E. If the item is important enough to me, I’ll figure out how to adjust my budget to afford it. If it isn’t that important, I’ll forget about it.
16. When I’m feeling down in the dumps, spending money:
A. Is the last thing I would do, putting some more money in savings might lift my spirits.
B. Always cheers me up.
C. Just makes me feel worse. Spending money has nothing to do with happiness.
D. Is not what I think about to cheer myself up.
E. In large amounts, and hatching plans to make more money, makes me feel better.
17. I would take (or have taken) a bank loan under these circumstances:
A. To pay off debts, to go on vacations, or to buy something I really wanted.
B. To finance my education — maybe. (I’ve never borrowed money, and I never want to.)
C. To set up or expand a business, or to make an investment that would yield a high return.
D. To make essential repairs or to increase my future security.
E. To deal with medical emergencies or other unforeseen circumstances but not for anything else.
18. I worry about money:
A. Never. I worry about important things!
B. A little bit all the time. But I do all I can to manage it well.
C. Constantly. It’s the main thing I worry about!
D. Only when financial crises strike.
E. Not very much. I just enjoy spending it!
19. When I think about providing for my future security:
A. I am quite concerned that I won’t have enough money in my future, since it’s been so hard for me to save. B. I have such a difficult time thinking about money that all I can do is hope that the future will take care of itself!
C. Since I make sure I have a lot of money at my disposal, the future will probably be fine.
D. Considering how systematic I’ve been about saving for the future, I feel reasonably confident about it.
E. I don’t think about the future in financial terms. I have more important concerns, such as my quality of life in the future.
20. If I won a million dollars in the lottery, my first reaction would be:
A. To feel guilty, thinking about the starving masses who have nothing.
B. To feel shocked, a little overwhelmed, and very relieved that my future was now secure.
C. To be totally overwhelmed — I would have no idea how to handle it.
D. To be very happy and pleased, and to immediately start thinking about how I could simultaneously make my money grow and use it for my own enjoyment.
E. To be wildly excited, realizing that from now on I could buy anything I wanted!
Now that you’ve completed the quiz, here’s the key to determine which combination of money personality types you tend to be:
- H = Hoarder
- S = Spender
- M = Money Monk
- V = Avoider
- A = Amasser
Refer to the following list as you score your answers, keeping count of how many H’s, S’s, M’s, V’s, and A’s you’ve chosen.
|1.||A. = S||B. = H||C. = V||D. = A||E. = M|
|2.||A. = M||B. = S||C. = A||D. = H||E. = V|
|3.||A. = H||B. = V||C. = S||D. = M||E. = A|
|4.||A. = A||B. = H||C. = M||D. = S||E. = V|
|5.||A. = V||B. = A||C. = H||D. = M||E. = S|
|6.||A. = A||B. = V||C. = H||D. = S||E. = M|
|7.||A. = V||B. = A||C. = S||D. = M||E. = H|
|8.||A. = V||B. = H||C. = A||D. = S||E. = M|
|9.||A. = S||B. = M||C. = V||D. = H||E. = A|
|10.||A. = M||B. = S||C. = A||D. = V||E. = H|
|11.||A. = V||B. = M||C. = S||D. = A||E. = H|
|12.||A. = V||B. = H||C. = M||D. = S||E. = A|
|13.||A. = H||B. = A||C. = V||D. = M||E. = S|
|14.||A. = A||B. = V||C. = H||D. = S||E. = M|
|15.||A. = V||B. = A||C. = S||D. = M||E. = H|
|16.||A. = H||B. = S||C. = M||D. = V||E. = A|
|17.||A. = S||B. = M||C. = A||D. = H||E. = V|
|18.||A. = M||B. = A||C. = H||D. = V||E. = S|
|19.||A. = S||B. = V||C. = A||D. = H||E. = M|
|20.||A. = M||B. = H||C. = V||D. = A||E. = S|
Whichever letter (or letters) turns up most frequently in your answers is the one that represents your predominant money personality type (or types).
Brief description of major money types
Hoarder. You enjoy holding on to your money. It may be difficult for you to spend money on luxury items or immediate pleasures for yourself and your loved ones.
Spender. You probably love to use your money to buy whatever will bring you pleasure. You may have a hard time saving, budgeting, and delaying gratification for long-term goals.
Money Monk. You may try to avoid having too much money. You’d feel guilty if a large amount of money came your way unexpectedly.
Avoider. You tend to avoid performing various tasks of everyday money management. You may feel anxious or incompetent about dealing with money.
Amasser. You’re likely to be overly concerned with keeping large amounts of money at your disposal to spend, save, and invest. This preoccupation may be having a negative effect on your ability to enjoy your life in the moment.
Assessing your money personality
For now, you need only be concerned with answering the following questions:
- Which money type or types are you?
- Does your money personality cause you any difficulty in life, either as an individual or in dealing with your partner?
- What are one or two things about your relationship to money that you think you might like to change or modify in some way? (When answering this question, note that the changes don’t have to be actions or behaviors, they can be feelings or attitudes about money as well.)
Here are some common responses:
- I’d like to stop going on shopping binges.
- I’d like to start saving for my future.
- I’d like to stop worrying about money so much.
- I’d like to stop feeling guilty when I buy myself something.
- I’d like to stop feeling bad that I don’t make more money.
- I’d like to stop feeling ashamed/guilty about making too much money.
- I’d like to figure out how I sabotage my own attempts to make more money, so I can provide better for myself and my family.
- I’d like to stop procrastinating about paying bills and doing my taxes.
- I’d like to be more conscious of where I spend my money.
After answering these simple questions about sources of shame guilt, fear, and pride about money, and looking at the tendencies toward imbalance reflected in your money personality, you are ready to begin thinking about actions you can take or attitudes you can adopt to move toward more harmony in your moneylife.
Your first assignment
At least once a week, choose to do one thing that will increase your self-esteem about how you deal with your money. The more concrete your action is, the better. I’ll give you some examples of weekly assignments.
- For hoarders:
- I will spend $25 or so on some frivolous gift for myself or a friend.
- I will refrain from reworking my budget to see how I can save more money — in fact, I won’t look at my budget once all week, and I’ll see how that feels.
- For spenders:
- I will put $20 into my savings account.
- I will refrain from going on shopping binges.
- For money monks:
- I will buy myself something I’ve wanted for a while and notice how I feel about that act of “selfish pleasure.”
- I will make a list of ways to use money that include giving to others and giving to myself.
- For avoiders:
- I will keep track of where I spend my money.
- I will sit down for one two-hour session in which I pay all the bills that are due and balance my checkbook.
- For amassers:
- I will spend less than 15 minutes a day checking my investments.
- I will engage in activities that don’t involve money at all, such as going to a museum or packing a lunch and eating it in the park.
If you choose to do one of these assignments, remember to reward yourself for this new behavior, and monitor your reactions to it. Give yourself credit for taking your first step on the road to money harmony.
Your next challenge will be to explore your history with money. When you can see how the past impinges on the present, you’ll be in a much better position to make improvements for the future.
This article has been edited and excerpted from Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts in Your Life and Relationships by Olivia Mellan. A psychotherapist and consultant in the field of money conflict resolution, Mellan shows you how your hidden, intense thoughts and feelings about money may be preventing you from dealing with it effectively — and causing major stress in your life and relationships. This excellent book offers innovative exercises, dialogues, and other communication techniques to help you make positive changes in how you think about and deal with money, and to communicate more productively with your ex about money matters.