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The first time I experienced money blocks was shortly after I graduated college and started my first “real” job. Well, I should say that was when I first recognized my money blocks…
I always seemed to self-sabotage when it came to money, and it took me a long time to realize what I was doing.
After college, I turned down several higher-paying jobs and took one paying half of what other companies offered.
Even though I wasn’t making much money starting out, I did really well keeping my finances in order. I was able to put almost 50% of my monthly income towards my debt and saved over $8,000 that first year.
Then, after about a year, I decided to quit my job and give freelancing a go. At the time, I had about $10,000 saved, but I wasn’t making much money with freelance work. Definitely not quit-your-day-job kind of money.
Within a couple weeks, I landed my first few freelance writing gigs and even negotiated my rates! In the wrong direction.
That’s right — I literally asked people to pay me less than what they were offering.
Who does that?!
These are just a few highlights from the long list of self-sabotaging decisions I made around money during those early post-college years.
After a few months of making barely any money at all, watching my savings dwindle away, and stressing over how to pay rent (or anything, for that matter), I started to see the pattern.
On their own, each of these decisions could be chalked up to naivety, impulsivity, or even youthful recklessness.
However, now I know they were the result of something much deeper: unresolved money blocks.
What are money blocks?
The concept of money blocks is a fairly new one. There’s a lot of different language floating around out there, and it can get confusing fast.
So before we go any further, let me give you my take on it:
Let’s say you’re trying to save money but, for whatever reason, you can’t seem to do it.
You spend money almost as soon as you get it, and you don’t know why.
You want to stick to a budget, save more money, and get control of your finances. So what’s the problem?
There are two possibilities:
- You’re just missing the tools or knowledge to improve your situation.
- You have money blocks.
For some people, all they need is a bit of education on how money works and a simple system to manage it, and they’re good to go.
However, that’s not always the case.
I mean, I studied finance (financial planning, to be exact) in college, and I still dealt with money blocks.
How Money Blocks Work
Psychologists and therapists have known for a long time that our childhood experiences affect our actions and behaviors as adults.
Only in recent years, however, have they begun to realize that what we experience in our youth regarding money has an impact on how we view and behave with money as adults.
The Financial Therapy Association was established in 2008 specifically to research, educate, and provide professional training on this topic.
The idea is that we all receive messages about money as children — some good, some bad.
These can be things we hear (overt) from our family, community, social groups, etc. or messages we pick up from watching others, reading, or the media.
As a result, we form these money scripts/stories/blueprints: a combination of subconscious beliefs about money that influence our behavior as adults.
If you receive positive messages, such as:
- We can use money to make the world a better place.
- Money is good because it provides us with what we need.
- You see your parents have calm, constructive conversations about money.
then you’re more likely to have a healthy relationship with money as an adult.
On the other hand, if you receive messages like:
- Money is evil and rich people are greedy.
- I wonder who she had to screw to get that job.
- You see your parents fight about money all the time.
then you’re likely to integrate these messages into your subconscious, creating a faulty belief system about money.
These beliefs stay buried in your subconscious and drive your decision making until you learn to identify and move past them.
How do you know if you have a money block?
No offense, but you probably do.
I have them, you have them, pretty much everyone has money blocks of some kind.
One way to tell for sure if you have money blocks is that you feel like you’re doing everything “right,” but you’re getting nowhere.
You have the knowledge and the want, but you’re not getting the results.
Another sign that you may be dealing with a faulty belief system is that you know what you should be doing — again, you have the desire and the know-how — but you keep sabotaging your own success.
For me, this was the case.
I had the financial knowledge (a degree in finance). I knew that I should stay at my job, continue to pay down my debt, and build up my freelance income before leaving.
But I leapt straight off the cliff into the unknown. No plan, no idea how the heck I was going to make money.
Given my education and background, I should have been doing great. But if you have these deeply held beliefs about money and you try to do something that contradicts them, you’ll subconsciously sabotage your own success.
For example, say you have the belief that you’re “bad with money.”
Regardless of how hard you try, you’ll keep doing things and making decisions to prove your belief to be true.
This is a natural human tendency called confirmation bias.
So you avoid looking at your bank statements, overspend with credit cards, and develop other destructive money behaviors all in an effort to keep reality in line with your beliefs.
The worst part is you probably aren’t even aware you’re doing it because your subconscious is driving the train.
Focusing on the numbers when you have money blocks is like putting a fresh coat of paint on a condemned building.
Things may look nice on the outside, but there’s still a faulty foundation. In order to make a real change, you have to deal with the underlying issue.
If you’re dealing with money blocks (or negative beliefs of any kind), the first step in overcoming them is identifying what they are.
20 Common Money Blocks That May Be Holding You Back
Once upon a time, two financial therapists (Brad and Ted Klontz) coined the phrase “money scripts.”
What I refer to as money blocks are the negative, limiting beliefs within each script.
Let’s take a look at the four money scripts — avoidance, worship, status, and vigilance — and talk about some of the money blocks associated with each.
Money avoiders typically have less money and a lower net worth than non-avoiders. They tend to overspend, sacrifice their financial well-being for others, hoard, avoid looking at bank statements, and have trouble sticking to a budget.
Essentially, money avoiders believe money is bad, and they sabotage their own financial success in an unconscious effort to have as little of it as possible.
Associated Money Blocks:
- I don’t deserve money.
- Money is the root of all evil.
- Wealthy people are corrupt.
- Having a lot of money makes me a bad person.
- I just want to help people. I don’t care about money.
- People won’t like me if I have a lot of money.
- Money can’t buy me happiness.
On the other hand, money avoiders often have a conflicting belief that having more money could solve all their problems. So they go back and forth between hating money and wanting more of it.
Money Avoider in Action:
I was a hardcore money avoider, if you hadn’t already guessed.
I grew up in a family and community where money was seen as bad. Most of my family is full-time blue-collar workers and part-time farmers. There was a strong emphasis on leading a “simple” life.
Money isn’t important; family and happiness are.
As the definition of money scripts implies, those are indeed partially true. But what I heard about money growing up led me to subconsciously believe that having a lot of it would make me a bad person.
One of the main reasons I turned down some of those early job offers was because they paid more money than my dad makes.
I remember having a conversation with him on the phone about it. When I told him my offer, he said, “I’ve been working for 25 years and that’s more than I make.”
Needless to say, knowing that I made more money than my dad (who’s an amazing man and deserves all the money in the world) would have made me feel terrible.
Taking a lower-paying job, leaving my job when I was doing well financially, and asking to be paid less money — all sabotaging behaviors that stem from some of these core beliefs.
Money worshippers believe that money is the key to happiness and the solution to all their problems. However, they also believe you can never have enough money and, therefore, they will never be able to afford all the things they want in life.
As a result, they tend to overspend in an attempt to buy happiness, get trapped in credit card debt, and have a lower income and net worth.
Money worshippers are more likely to hoard possessions, spend compulsively, ignore or forget about their finances, put work ahead of relationships, give to others even if they can’t afford it, and be financially dependent on others.
Associated Money Blocks:
- I can never have enough money.
- Money will give me meaning in life.
- The more money I have, the happier I will be.
- I can never be happy if I am poor.
- If I had more money, things would be better.
Money Worshipper in Action:
My dear friend Chance is a classic money worshipper.
He’s always talking about how he would be so much happier if he had more money but does nothing about it. Except work.
He’s obsessed with working and making as much money as possible.
Then he turns right around and spends every dollar he makes going out to bars and paying for everyone else’s drinks, buying designer clothes, and taking expensive trips.
He can’t hold down a relationship because he’s always focused on work. And even though he makes more money than most of our friends, he still accepts money from his parents.
People with money status scripts believe their self-worth is determined by their net worth. They may overspend in an attempt to convince others they’re financially successful.
However, money status individuals are normally on the lower end in terms of income and net worth. They’re more likely to spend compulsively, be financially dependent on others, lie about their spending, and gamble.
Associated Money Blocks:
- I am only as successful as the amount of money I make.
- Others will like me if I have more money/nice things.
Money Status in Action:
Before I became a financial coach, I used help friends and family make budgets and debt payoff plans.
Alexa was one of the first friends I ever helped. She came over to my house, laid out everything I asked her to bring (bank statements, loan information, etc.), and two things became immediately clear to me:
- Alexa made way less money than I thought she did (she had a brand new car and was always buying nice new clothes).
- She was spending about $1,000 more than she made every month.
To me, the answer was clear: she needed to cut back on spending and learn to live within her means.
Given that much of her spending was discretionary (clothes, home decor, eating out, etc.), it was totally possible to do.
But when I gave Alexa my analysis of her situation, she didn’t budge.
She had a lot of resistance around cutting back, and I couldn’t understand why. As I asked questions and we got deeper and deeper into her money story, I realized that this was a common theme in her family.
Alexa’s parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles all placed a high value on having the best of everything. New cars, high-quality furniture, designer clothes, HGTV-worthy homes.
The problem was (from what I could tell) they couldn’t actually afford it.
Of the four money scripts defined by Brad and Ted Klontz, this is the only one related to positive financial health. However, the money vigilant are not immune to money blocks, which can lead to over vigilance and negative behaviors.
People who fall into the money vigilant category are watchful, alert, and concerned about their financial well-being. They believe it’s important to work hard for money, save, and not give or be given handouts.
They’re more likely to use cash than credit cards. As a result, money vigilant individuals typically have higher income and net worth.
They also tend to be anxious about their finances and not share their financial status with others. They’re less likely to participate in unhealthy behaviors such as gambling, compulsive spending, ignoring their finances, and becoming financially dependent on others.
The problem for the money vigilant comes when they take saving and frugality to the extreme. In this case, they may have a difficult time spending and enjoying the money they’ve saved.
Associated Money Blocks:
- I can’t trust anyone with my money.
- People only want me for my money.
- Making money is hard./I have to work hard for my money.
- I shouldn’t spend money on myself or others.
- Giving to the poor encourages laziness.
- If you have nothing, then you have nothing to lose.
Money Vigilance in Action:
When I think of money vigilance, the first person that comes to mind is Ebenezer Scrooge. His character is the epitome of a miser — someone who hoards wealth and spends as little money as possible.
Poor Bob Cratchit is freezing to death because Scrooge refuses to spend money heating coals for the fire.
When asked to donate to charity, he spits a “Bah! Humbug!”
Granted, I would argue that Scrooge is a blend of money worshipper and money vigilance scripts, but you get the picture!
Being attentive to your money is important. But being too attentive can lead to some negative and self-destructive behaviors.
How to Overcome Your Money Blocks
The first step in overcoming your money blocks is building awareness.
By now, you’ve probably identified at least a couple of your own limiting beliefs. That in and of itself can be hugely transformational!
The next steps are to tear down your old beliefs, choose new ones to replace them, and implement actions that reinforce your new beliefs to really help them sink in.
Tear Down Your Old Beliefs
The thing about most of our old beliefs (AKA money blocks) is that they’re not entirely false. There’s usually some truth to them. That’s what makes it so hard to let them go.
For example, let’s say you have the belief that money is bad or that money corrupts people.
There are without a doubt some bad things that have happened in the world in the name of money. And there are people with lots of money who do terrible things.
Corrupt government officials who take money from corporations. Scam artists who rob innocent people and make a fortune. Big businessmen who use their money as a weapon to obtain positions of power.
These types of situations reinforce the belief that money is bad or corrupt. So how do we tear them down?
Start with two simple steps:
- Ask questions
- Find contradicting evidence
I’m a firm believer in questioning everything.
Your education, actions, beliefs, societal norms, all of it.
And when it comes to your beliefs, the first question is: Where does this come from and why do I believe it?
In many cases, you’ll realize that the thought isn’t even your own. It’s been passed down to you by family, society, culture, etc. Once you identify the source, you can start to detach yourself from the belief.
Next, ask yourself, Do I really believe this is true? Is it always true?
Find Contradicting Evidence
Your money blocks may be partial truths, but they’re never accurate 100% of the time. Look for real-life examples that contradict those negative beliefs.
Going back to “money is evil,” there are countless stories of the wonderful things that money can do.
Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey are two common examples of wealthy philanthropists. Each has given away millions, if not billions, of dollars of their own money to various charitable causes.
But that’s just one example of how money can do good in the world. Look for some in your own life.
Maybe money allowed you to go on a nice vacation last summer, host a family dinner, or donate to a cause you love.
The purpose behind asking questions and contradicting your beliefs is to weaken them. That way we can begin to replace them with new, constructive beliefs.
Choose Your New Beliefs
Creating your new money beliefs is sort of like choosing good money affirmations. You want them to be positive, simple, empowering, and set in the present tense.
And, most importantly, you want your new beliefs to support your conscious goals and desires.
If you want to make a lot of money but you subconsciously believe money is evil and having it would make you a bad person, then you’re never going to allow yourself to have the money you want.
Your new belief might look something like this: Money supports my happiness and is a tool that I use to do good in the world.
Whenever you feel your old belief creeping up, make the conscious decision to think, write down, and say out loud your new money belief.
Here are some other ways to sink those suckers in:
Imagery is a powerful tool to help reaffirm your new beliefs.
Visualize what it will look like when your belief is your reality. Going off our example above — money supports your happiness, but what does that look like to you?
Imagine your ideal day. What would you eat/see/do? How and with whom would you spend your time? Where would you go? What causes would you support?
Visualize yourself going through your ideal day, from sunrise to sunset.
This one is similar to the Baudoin Technique from Joseph Murphy’s book The Power of Your Subconscious Mind.
The idea is that you can more easily access and reprogram your subconscious when you’re drowsy and not fully alert.
Write down your new belief on a piece of paper and keep it near your bed. Read it to yourself aloud several times before you lie down. Then continue to repeat it in your mind as you drift off to sleep.
Follow the same process when you wake up and as you get ready for the day.
Create New Money Habits
Much of what we do on a daily basis is habitual. When it comes to breaking a bad habit (money-related or not) you need to understand the habit loop.
There are three elements to the habit loop: Cue –> Routine –> Reward.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to kick the habit of impulse buying online. Your habit loop may look something like this:
Boredom –> Scroll through Instagram –> Visual stimulation/connection/buying something nice
Once you can identify the elements of your own money habit loop, you can begin to experiment with each in order to break the cycle.
In our impulse buying example, you may switch up the routine. When you’re bored, instead of scrolling through Instagram, maybe you pick up a book, call a friend, or go for a walk.
For more information on how to disrupt the habit loop, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
Talk to a Professional
We all have the power to change our beliefs and overcome our money blocks. However, some are more difficult than others.
When money blocks are the result of a traumatic experience such as abandonment, financial abuse, or significant losses during a major depression, they can become resistant to change.
If this is your experience and your money blocks are holding you back, consider talking to a financial therapist.
Undoing Your Money Blocks is an Ongoing Process
Like most things in life, overcoming your limiting money beliefs takes time. It’s a process, and one that I believe never really ends.
I’ve gotten to know my own money blocks pretty well and done a great deal of work to move past them. But they still creep up almost every single day.
However, now that I know what they are and how to handle them, I’m able to recognize them when they appear and make conscious, constructive decisions. And my hope is that you will, too.
I’m a financial coach and author + owner of Goodbye to Broke. I love all things personal finance, money management, and healthy living. And I talk to my dog way too much, if we’re being honest.