Your money mindset shapes the way you make money, spend it, and save it – or the way you ignore it, blow it, or approach it with dread.
Here are 11 common money mindset beliefs. One or more of them may be getting in the way of your financial success.
I’ve experienced some of these, and my financial coaching clients have lived with others. They’re dream-stoppers.
But these beliefs don’t have to be fixed truths.
You have the power to change the way you think about money, and therefore, the way you feel about it and the actions you take to make it work for you.
I’ve worked to change some of the limiting beliefs resulting from my own money mindset, and have opened myself up to many new possibilities.
If I can do it, you can, too.
Money Mindset Limiting Beliefs
People with a scarcity mindset often have a hard time spending anything, and when they do spend, they feel anxious.
Maybe your parents worked long hours for low pay and never spent an extra dime on anything. Or you lived through a job loss, bankruptcy, or other financial catastrophe, which left you with the idea that the financial rug can be pulled out from under you at any moment.
One of my clients says that she feels “tight” when she thinks about money. She’s glad her mom taught her the value of frugality and simple living, but she wants to open her life to new possibilities and finds that challenging.
This can lead to problems with significant others. If your partner wants to enjoy life with an occasional splurge, and you don’t want to spend anything, ever, you’re going to clash.
A sense of scarcity can set you in good stead, generally. If you live with a scarcity money mindset, you don’t overspend and you save a lot.
But it can also hold you back. Thinking there’s never enough leads to feelings of fear about taking risks.
You may invest too conservatively, or leave all your money in a savings or money market account because you’re too afraid to invest at all. In that case, you’ll end up losing money as inflation eats away at your spending power.
You may never start that business or change out of an unsatisfying job because, well, what if it doesn’t work out?
A money mindset that leans a little bit towards scarcity can help you along, but not if it stops you from spending occasionally to live a full, happy, and meaningful life.
People overcommitted to YOLO (You Only Live Once) find it hard to rein in their spending. The seat of their fear lies not in ending up with too little, but in losing out on everything life has to offer.
A YOLO mindset could be a different kind of reaction to a childhood of scarcity. Having felt deprived by your never-spend-a-dime parents (especially if they actually had money to spend), you may be choosing instead to live large, money-be-damned.
Or it could be spurred on by envy of your friends’ social media posts depicting expensive vacations and fancy cars.
Perhaps your highest value is seizing the day and never missing out on any opportunity.
As with a money mindset based on scarcity, a little bit of YOLO is a good thing. After all, life holds many opportunities and you don’t want to look back one day and regret not pursuing them.
But spending more than you bring in to meet your friends at fancy restaurants, join them for expensive vacations, take every class that pops up on your feed, or buy whatever catches your fancy – because “you only live once” – will keep you from achieving your financial goals.
3. Spending Makes Me Feel Good
I know someone whose mom took her shopping any time she felt down about something.
A break-up with a boyfriend or a bad grade in school? Retail therapy, baby!
Like mashed potatoes or chicken soup, shopping makes her feel better. Even now, so many years later. Unfortunately, her shopping habit has put her into debt.
There’s actually research supporting the idea that increased consumption leads to greater happiness. No wonder people tend toward retail therapy, and go into debt to make themselves feel good.
Of course, the feelings of insecurity and anxiety that result from living above one’s means and accumulating consumer debt eventually outweigh the satisfaction of owning a designer handbag or a fancy car.
4. Feeling Like “The Poor Kid”
Did you grow up in an affluent community, in a family that experienced financial hardship?
Were you the kid with the no-name sneakers from Target when all your friends had Air Jordans?
This feeling of being an outsider to affluence, of always coming up short compared to others, can leave a deep mark.
It can lead to saying “yes” to fancy dinners with your friends when you don’t have the money to pay the credit card bill. Or wanting to look wealthy and generous by picking up the tab.
This money mindset can lead to negative financial decisions that have a long-term impact.
The most devastating of these decisions is over-use of credit cards, leaving you with debilitating debt. Or buying more house than you can afford, or a fancy car with payments that leave your monthly budget in the red.
5. Thinking Like a Princess
If you grew up sheltered, with no financial education or expectations for personal responsibility around money, you may have the “Princess” money mindset.
As an adult, you’re resentful that you even have to think about your finances. You just want the money to be there and you don’t want to have to manage it.
Because, you know, it’s challenging to face your financial situation and make changes to better your life.
Wouldn’t it just be so much easier if Mom and Dad could continue bankrolling you? Even in middle age or beyond?
You may be a responsible adult, doing what you must in order to bring in an income and pay the bills, but you still feel that resentment whenever you look at your balance.
And that resentment – growing out of a misplaced sense of entitlement – may be stopping you from taking control of your financial life.
6. Money as a Source of Pain and Annoyance
You might have painful memories about the rift money caused in your family. After all, financial issues constitute a major source of disruption in marriages.
One study found that “marital conflicts dealing with money were longer, especially recurrent, and held higher present and long‐term significance to partners’ relationships than other conflicts.”
And if your partner committed financial infidelity – racking up debt you didn’t know about, for example – your sense of distrust and pain around money only intensifies. This causes even more avoidance.
People with the “Money is Painful” mindset feel stressed even thinking about their finances. But we all know that ignoring the elephant in the room only makes it stomp harder.
And that the pain you experience around money won’t go away until you deal effectively with your finances.
7. Doing Good in the World Means Not Making Much Money
Do you work for a non-profit? Are you committed to making positive change in the world?
And do you believe that doing good means you can’t do well?
I believed this for a long time. I worked for many years helping immigrants and refugees prepare for life and work in the U.S. And then when I opened my preschool, I was committed to helping my students learn and grow.
But I never made much money, and didn’t think I could do both – help people and bring in a sizable income.
If you have the “Doing Good Means Not Making Much” money mindset, you’re convincing yourself of a false dichotomy.
It’s not either/or. You can do both – be an agent of change AND make money.
Really! You can!
8. Artists are Bad with Money
I interviewed a lovely woman for an article in my Small Steps/Big Changes series.
Like many people in the arts, she had convinced herself that, as an artist, she couldn’t be good with money.
She had honed her music skills over many years, training the creative part of her brain while the logical, number-crunching part languished. Or so she thought.
To support herself as an artist, she had actually been a pretty astute entrepreneur. And she certainly had the ability to manage her money well – she just needed to pay attention to it!
If you’re a creative type, you don’t have to live forever with the money mindset of “Artists Can’t Deal With Their Financial Lives.”
It’s another false dichotomy. Money and art don’t have to be “either/or,” they can be “both/and.”
You can be creative and be good with money.
9. The Cinderella Syndrome
This money mindset applies mostly to Baby Boomer and older Gen X women.
You might have grown up with the expectation that you’d get married and you’d never have to worry about finances. After all, you were taught, that’s what Prince Charming was for.
As a young adult, I never thought much about increasing my income or managing my personal finances. I just expected that I’d get married and while I always knew I would work, I assumed that my husband would make the bulk of the family finances so I could do “good in the world” work (see above).
Well, I ended up single and doing everything on my own: buying a house, adopting and raising children, starting and running a business.
Still, until later in life I never expected that I’d make a lot and never paid much attention to saving and investing.
This ingrained, ole’ timey cultural expectation wasn’t easy to shed. But I’ve done the work.
How about you?
Maybe you dream about becoming an entrepreneur, or simply starting a business from home, but you hold yourself back because, you know, Cinderella doesn’t start businesses.
If your partner dies or you end up divorced, will you be able to earn and manage your money so you’ll feel secure and able to pursue your dreams?
If not, smash that glass slipper, sister. You can do this.
10. Lack of Confidence
Do you need everything perfectly lined up before you jump into something new?
Will you take on a new project at work or apply for a new position if you don’t have 100% of the skills and experience required under your belt?
If so, you’re like a lot of other women.
Did you know that men move ahead faster because they’re not afraid to try something for which they’re not 100% prepared?
Many women lack the confidence to jump in not completely prepared, so they miss out on opportunities for growth and for higher pay.
And if you’re not confident, you won’t ask for what you’re worth.
I know someone who used to work in Human Resources at a tech company. She says she wanted to yell at the women they hired: “Ask for more!!!”
The men received higher salaries because they negotiated for higher salaries; the women tended to accept the initial offer.
Asking for more can feel really, really scary. But do you provide value? Are you worth it, especially compared to your male colleagues?
Yes? I thought so. Then go for it.
11. I DESERVE it.
Of course you do!
You work hard, you’ve sacrificed, you’ve studied. And now you’re making good money.
You deserve those Manolo Blahnik shoes, that BMW, and that over-sized house with the pool out back.
The “I Deserve It” money mindset can lead you astray, though.
The real question to ask yourself is, “Do I really WANT it, in my heart, or do I want to impress others?”
Figure out what you value most highly. If it’s fancy cars, then great, go buy one. But if it’s financial freedom, or travel, or helping your kids with college, or starting a business, then forgo the BMW.
Save for the important things – the ones you really deserve.
Overcoming a Limiting Money Mindset
The first step to overcoming a limiting money mindset is to recognize it.
Notice the thoughts that pop into your head whenever you consider asking for a raise, starting a side hustle, or making a budget in order to pay down debt.
“I’m not good at this.”
“I can’t be bothered.”
“I’ll never make much.”
The feelings that result from those thoughts usually aren’t pretty. You might feel defeated or filled with shame.
But once you face the mindset holding you back, you can begin to write a new narrative.
This isn’t just positive thinking. You’re not going to push away years of limiting beliefs by simply saying, “I’m good with money! I can make a lot! I can budget and save!”
Instead, live with the thoughts and feelings. Write them down if that helps.
Then start questioning:
Is it true, now and forever, that I can’t manage my money?
Do I have the ability to learn?
Can I start with one small action that proves I can take a first step? And if I take a first step, maybe I can gain the confidence to take a second step, and a third.
Start with something small. Look online for deals on Internet service, for example, then call your provider and negotiate a reduction in your bill – or let them know you’ll switch to the other provider.
Take a deep breath, then volunteer at work to take on an assignment you don’t feel 100% prepared for.
Not something that’s so out of your reach you’re bound to fail, but something just beyond your comfort zone.
Then work it hard. Really hard. Ask questions and learn what you don’t know. Do an outstanding job – because of course you can.
You can also hire a financial coach to help you face your fears and make a specific action plan for gaining control of your financial life.
With each small achievement, your limiting beliefs will feel less constricting. You’ll gain more confidence and realize that life really does get better when you keep the negative thoughts at bay and take actions – one after another – to change.
Eventually, you can shed them all together. With evidence backing you up (look at all you’ve achieved!), you’ll create a new money mindset: