This piece was originally published on Beyond Your Hammock
What do you think matters more to financial success: being really good with numbers and math, or being really good at managing your mindset?
While having an understanding of things like compounding returns is helpful, I’d argue that your money mindsets are some of the most important factors in determining whether or not you’ll achieve your goals and enjoy financial stability, and even financial freedom.
Money mindsets matter because how we think directly influences how we see the world. Our thoughts direct our actions, and our actions over time become our habits.
Those habits, whether they’re good and positive or bad and destructive, are what determine your financial future.
Considering that, it’s a good idea to occasionally check in with yourself and ask: are my money mindsets helping me get to where I really want to go… or are they holding me back and weighing me down?
If you’re hanging on to any of these money mindsets, it’s time to let them go and focus on more useful mental frameworks that will actually help you make progress instead of holding you back.
Money Mindset #1: Money Is Bad — and Having (or Wanting It) Is Bad, Too
Does the idea of having a lot of money make you uncomfortable? Does money just feel bad to you?
If someone says, “how did the rich get rich?” would you answer sound something like “by taking advantage of the poor” or “by cheating someone else”?
Your primary money mindsets might revolve around what Dr. Brad Klontz calls money avoidance.
If you’re a “money avoider,” then you may feel negatively about it for various reasons. Money might be something that triggers feelings of fear, anxiety, or even disgust.
In turn, you might (consciously or subconsciously) believe that people who have money are also bad, evil, or corrupt. You might see people who are financially successful as greedy, selfish, and manipulative or cold-hearted.
You might think this mindset is harmless; after all, who cares if you think negatively about the “financial elite” or the 1 percent? They can go sob into their piles of cash for all you care, Woody Harrelson style.
But the thing is, this money mindset doesn’t just lead you to feel contemptuous of the rich. It can stop you from becoming a wealthy, financially secure person yourself.
Even if your goal isn’t “to be rich,” money avoidance can keep you in a cycle of struggling.
You might tell yourself you just want to get to a point where you’re no longer living paycheck to paycheck and constantly worried about which bill you’re going to let go this month… but if you think money is bad or evil, you may self-sabotage opportunities or chances to improve your financial situation.
If you identify with being poor, broke, or struggling — especially if you feel this is somehow morally superior to being financially stable and comfortable — you will keep yourself in that cycle and fail to act in ways that could benefit you.
The truth is, money isn’t inherently evil. People who have money aren’t automatically bad, devious, greedy individuals who set out to profit from someone else’s misfortunes.
Money is a tool. Like any tool, you have a few choices about how you interact with it:
- You can ignore it or deliberately avoid it.
- You can use it destructively, to tear something apart or to hurt yourself or someone else.
- You can use it productively or creatively, to build what you want and to help others who may not know how to use the tool as well as you do.
If you refuse to drop a money mindset that tells you money is bad and people who have it are bad, too, then you’re going to be stuck with option 1 or 2.
You don’t have to hang on to those options, though. Option 3 is available to you, but you have to drop the idea that money is something that you need to avoid in order to be a good or righteous person.
I’ve chosen option 3, and you can too.
I’ve worked to learn how to use money as a tool to build security and freedom into my life — and I’ve also sought out additional training, education, and experience that allows me to show others how to get the most from their own money tools, as well.
You can do the same. Replace that old money mindset with a new one: money is a tool, and I have the ability to learn how to use it.
Money Mindset #2: Money Is Hard to Come by, and Difficult to Keep Once You Have It
Some money mindsets act as self-fulfilling prophecies. Buying into a scarcity-framed worldview is one of them.
Believing that money is hard to come by will make it difficult for you to see opportunities to earn or make more. If you prime your brain to assume you cannot generate more income, guess what? You won’t notice all the chances you could take to increase your earnings.
This isn’t just positive thinking airy-fairy stuff. Humans have selective attention. Your brain is extremely good at focusing on what you tell it to focus on.
The problem is, it tends to tune out anything that isn’t what you told it to look for, even if those other things would normally be appealing or something you’d want if you knew they were there.
And even if that something is a person dressed in a gorilla costume wandering through a group of people playing basketball.
Researchers have run “the gorilla experiment” over and over again and found the same result:
When you tell the viewer to count how many times a group of people in white shirt passes the ball, but tell them to ignore how many times the group in black shirts does the same, most people don’t even notice the person dressed as a gorilla wandering through the middle of the group.
So if you expect that money is hard to come by, then you will find it difficult to increase your income.
If you expect that money is difficult to keep once you have it, then you will find it almost impossible to increase your savings or avoid debt.
This kind of money mindset becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy simply because you’ve primed your brain to play by the rules you expect to be in place. But the thing is, these rules aren’t real. You made them up.
You only see what you expect to see. The world works the way you expect it to work.
3. Money Is Not Something I Deserve
This is another form of money avoidance — only with this money mindset, you don’t make cash “wrong.” You’re making yourself wrong in some way.
You may feel guilty about having money if you see others in the world who do not have enough. You may feel like you earned your money through means that were not good enough in some way, or are somehow wrong or bad.
Feeling like you don’t deserve to have the money you need could result in giving away more than you can truly afford to charities or others in your life. It could lead you to overspend in an effort to keep yourself in a deficit, or to influence you to pass up opportunities to earn more.
However this money mindset shows up for you, it might help to get at the heart of why you feel this way. Often, feelings of “I don’t deserve” this are rooted in some past experience that might not have anything to do with personal finance at all.
Once you can resolve the source of guilt or shame, you may find it easier to let go of the idea that, somehow, you don’t deserve financial success. From there, you can look to reframe your mindset to one that is more positive and affirming.
The Money Mindsets to Adopt for Financial Success
The money mindsets broken down above won’t work for you if you’re ready to make financial progress and create and grow wealth.
But it’s not very easy to just drop a belief and walk away from it, especially if it leaves a void in your mind. You need to know what beliefs to adopt instead that will actually help and support you instead of holding you back.
Here are some positive money mindsets you can consider:
- Money is a tool I can use productively and well to build the life I want.
- Money is abundant, and I can earn more of it.
- Money is a resource that I can use responsibly to create stability for myself and others.
- Money is a proxy for choice.
- Money is something I can understand and manage well (and if I don’t know how right now, I can learn and improve).
- Money is something I deserve so I can live well and help others.
Choose one that resonates with you (or create your own!) and embrace it. Simply repeating it like a mantra or thinking happy thoughts about it might be a good start, but remember that getting your mindset right is step one.
Once you choose to adopt a more productive money mindset, there’s still work to do. You need to follow up with actions, and you need to stay consistent with the right steps to take.
Not sure where to start? Check out some of the most recent episodes of Beyond Finances, the podcast where financial advice meets practical ideas of putting those tips into action.
Or browse through the rest of the blog to find strategies, insights, and fresh perspectives on how to get the most from your money to live well today while still planning responsibly for tomorrow.
Want more financial advice you can actually use? Check out Beyond Your Hammock, a fee-only financial planning firm that specializes in helping 30- and 40-somethings get clarity and start building wealth.