Book review: Mind Over Money

Mind Over Money by Brad and Ted Klontz “Financial success is more about mastering the mental game of money than about understanding the numbers.” That’s the first tenet of the Get Rich Slowly philosophy. That math of personal finance is simple; it’s controlling your habits and emotions that’s difficult.

In Mind Over Money, the father-son team of Ted and Brad Klontz provide a thorough discussion of the psychology of personal finance. They argue that our relationships with money are complex and not wholly rational. Our financial behavior is influenced by psychology and emotion and, especially, our personal history. We’ve all developed money blueprints (or “money scripts”, as the authors call them) that shape how we deal with money. These are “the slow accumulation of the lessons we learn from the adults around us.”

Money Blueprints

Some of our money blueprints are accurate; some aren’t. But:

Whether or not these interpretations are accurate or rational is not the point; the source of money scripts’ power is the fact that the beliefs made sense in their original context, in our childhood minds.

[…]

And that’s where problems arise. Even if our money scripts were very useful when they were formed, they can become destructive if we cling to them and act on them unthinkingly throughout our lives.

What sorts of things make up a money script (or money blueprint)? Let’s use me as an example.

My own money blueprint was built from my family’s poverty when I was a child, and from the way my parents fought and obsessed about money, and immediately spent any money they received. In my family, money was never saved for the future; it was spent on immediate wants and needs. This example became part of my own money blueprint. For years — and even today, actually — whenever I received a chunk of money (through a paycheck or a windfall or anything), my initial impulse was to spend it. It’s taken lots of hard work to overwrite my old ways of thought with something more constructive.

Money Mantras

Mind Over Money is divided into three sections.

  • The first section deals with what the authors call “The Big Lie”: that our financial problems arise because we’re lazy, crazy, greedy, or stupid. Nobody wants to be bad with money. Instead, financial problems are usually a result of our money blueprints (which the authors call “money scripts”).
  • The second section looks at a variety of money disorders, which are flaws in our money blueprints. These include money-avoidance disorders (like underspending and risk aversion), money-worshipping disorders (like compulsive spending and workaholism), and relationship disorders (such as enabling and dependency).
  • The final section discusses a variety of ways to overcome money disorders and replace them with more constructive financial blueprints.

The final section of Mind Over Money includes several exercises the authors have developed in workshops and while working one-on-one with clients. These exercises are designed to help you explore and understand your relationship with money. I usually hate stuff like this; I often think the exercises in self-help books are cheesy or irrelevant. The exercises in Mind Over Money are actually interesting and fun. They’re not just filler.

For example, the authors suggest that readers combat bad financial habits by developing a money mantra: a conscious statement that you repeat to yourself when you find yourself in trouble. This is something that’s proved very effective for me. While digging out of debt, I learned to ask myself, “Is this a Want or a Need?” As simple as that sounds, this mantra (in the form of a question) helped me arrest my compulsive spending. Now I adopt temporary mantras that reflect my priorities, such as: “If I buy this, I may not be able to afford my trip to Africa.”

Note: I’ve actually found that it’s useful to have different mantras for different situations. I build mantras around my weaknesses. To keep myself from buying books I’ll never read, I’ve learned to thwart my urge to spend by saying: “I can borrow this from the library. I can borrow this from the library.” To keep myself from bringing home tons of free Stuff, I tell myself: “Free isn’t always free. Free isn’t always free.”

Mind Over Money

Mind Over Money contains ample anecdotes: real stories from real people about their relationships with money. As you know, I always like real-life personal finance stories — and, in fact, would like to write a book built around them — because I think they’re more revealing and instructive than the pure theory provided in most finance manuals. There are many stories here, and they’re diverse. They show why “one size fits all” answers just don’t work in personal finance.

What’s more, the authors are very clear that they believe “financial advice is not enough to change destructive financial behaviors“. I agree. As I often say, money is more about mind than it is about math. We all know that we should save, and we all know about the power of compound interest. Knowledge isn’t the problem; psychology is the problem.

Mind Over Money won’t teach you how to budget and it doesn’t ever mention index funds. This isn’t a book about the nuts-and-bolts of personal finance. It’s a book about how we relate to money. Should you read it? I can’t say. Some of you will think it’s hogwash. But I’m willing to wager that there are a lot of GRS readers out there who would benefit from thinking more about their personal money blueprints.

Mind Over Money doesn’t provide all of the answers you need to correct your money blueprint, but I don’t think that’s the point. The strength of the book isn’t in the answers it provides, but in the questions it provokes.

[Earlier this year, Mind Over Money was reviewed by Kent at The Financial Philosopher and a guest-poster at ChristianPF.]

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There are 20 comments to "Book review: Mind Over Money".

  1. Jaime says 06 September 2010 at 04:59

    It looks like a good book, frankly there are too many books written about finances (earning it, saving it, investing it, etc.) I’ve only bought two books on PF myself because I realized most of the advice is repetitive.

    This looks like a good book because like you said its about the psychology. It looks like something I’m willing to check out because not many authors address the psychological issues that we have with money.

    You know I really think that its why lottery winners end up broke 5 years later, if they’ve always been bad with money, then its no wonder they spend it all away even when they have a ton of it. Its not like a larger amount keeps them from spending it away.

    Great review.

  2. Cynthia says 06 September 2010 at 08:07

    I have been a GRS reader for years. Despite the abundant information offered, mostly I have read it with a sense of curiosity, wanting to further understand the extremely “frugal” personality. I know that frugal folks end up with more cash, that’s a given. But I have known few of them who hold much inner wealth, because so often their frugality is simply an expression of one form of financial fear. I am much more interested in WHY people save or don’t save, than HOW they do it. Far from being “hogwash”, to me this is the most insightful post I have ever read on GRS. And I agree with the authors’ belief that simple financial advice is never the answer. Money is not our reason for being, it is one of many tools we are given for awakening to a deeper understanding of our selves, our world and our purpose. But it’s a juicy one, that’s for sure, because it touches us all so deeply.

    If you were to delve more deeply into these aspects of our financial experiences, and perhaps offer some exercises that may deepen our understanding of our relationship to money – the kind you usually hate 🙂 – I believe you would take this blog to a whole new level.

    One note: statements such as “I can borrow this from the library” are not mantras. They are disciplinary techniques to re-enforce a goal of self control. A true mantra is designed to awaken our awareness of a soul truth. Like sex and love, money is a potent means toward such understanding, especially our underlying fears. And no matter how good we get at saving and not spending, it means nothing if we continue to live in fear. Our world is about to enter a time when all our institutions will be shaken, and we will need to look at every aspects of our lives anew. It’s a perfect moment for letting go of old attachments, for nothing can bring us to our knees like financial fear.

    Looking forward to more insightful posts like this…

    Cynthia

  3. uncertain algorithm says 06 September 2010 at 08:24

    You know I really think that its why lottery winners end up broke 5 years later, if they’ve always been bad with money, then its no wonder they spend it all away even when they have a ton of it. Its not like a larger amount keeps them from spending it away.

    Or, these people are terrible with numbers in the first place. The fact that people play the lottery indicates they lack statistical skills, or any other mathematics skills. I suppose some people need psychological “pushes” like self-help books, but if people understood the mathematics behind finance, everything would be easier.

  4. Jonny Gibaud says 06 September 2010 at 10:43

    “The first section deals with what the authors call “The Big Lie”: that our financial problems arise because we’re lazy, crazy, greedy, or stupid.”

    Sorry people, though this will no doubt get me some negative karma this seems like just another “It’s not my fault it’s my past” get out clause.

    Actually most financial problems are cause exactly because people can all too often be lazy, crazy, greedy, or stupid. Not always, but often.

  5. Saundra says 06 September 2010 at 11:04

    It is important to recognize that the information offered by the father and son team is not intended to supplant financial information but to help us place it in context of what we believe about money and develop ways to make our financial choice consistent with our financial values. If you have the opportunity to spend some time with them you will see that they grappled with these concepts personally (visit the local library to check out “The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge”) and the collaborate closely with financial planners in the emerging field of financial therapy http://financialtherapyassociation.org/.

  6. margot says 06 September 2010 at 15:14

    I think that people carelessly throw around terms like “poverty” or “poor,” either because it’s a source of leverage in some situations to have been “poor” or because we’ve upped our expectations so much that we “feel” poor even though we are loaded by any reasonable standard/comparison. You reference your “family’s poverty.” In other blog entries about your financial history it sounds like your family was mostly middle class, sometimes with extra money and sometimes struggling to get by depending how your dad’s business ventures were going. I get that your family often lived paycheck-to-paycheck due to bad habits. However, I think it’s careless for any of us to think our ourselves “in poverty” unless you truly didn’t have a basic need met – you were homeless, you went hungry, or other basic needs weren’t met as a child. A lot of people in the US have a negative net work or live paycheck-to-paycheck, yet their day-to-day material lives are ones of luxury, especially compared to how Americans lived just decades ago or how people still live all over the world.

  7. Suzanne says 06 September 2010 at 15:22

    I’d like to add that focusing on psychological explanations and thus solutions to one’s financial woes distracts one from understanding the cultural, political and structural reasons why so many more Americans (than, say Europeans) are in such bad financial states.

    Here’s an interesting extension to the conversation. “The Poorest Countries Are the Most Religious — But the United States is an outlier.”
    http://www.bigquestionsonline.com/blogs/heather-wax/the-poorest-countries-are-the-most-religious

  8. Adrian says 06 September 2010 at 15:29

    ***NOTE: J.D., I Have The Strangest Feeling That A Sunday “Reader Stories” Is Missing?***

    In regards to the book, first and foremost, I want to thank you for doing a review which touches on the psychology behind our spending habits, which truly is — like you frequently allude to — the reasoning behind our frequently-unconcious spending.

    While I feel that it is a fair and valid point to state that past habits do affect the future, whether conciously or unconciously, the reader needs to be made aware that along the line somewhere they have a choice; whether or not to proceed with self-destructive behaviour. As you mentioned, it is one thing to be made aware of it, and yet another thing to actually do something about it. They do mention several exercizes to try to replace the habits, but first and foremost, the reader needs to realize WHY they should change and be convinced that it IS the correct action for them to do. Other than missing out on that small note of self-empowerment, I feel that the book does an excellent job of bridging our spending history with our present. I feel that no man or woman can truly ever proceed forward in life without understanding the reasoning behind their past…

  9. Smoovie says 06 September 2010 at 17:52

    @Johnny Gibaud Doesn’t the desire to remedy one’s habits imply a feeling of responsibility for them, though? To say that one’s financial “script” exists outside of the context of one’s upbringing only serves to create unproductive self-blame and to impede the understanding and changing of that script.

  10. J.D. says 06 September 2010 at 18:00

    @Margot (#6)
    It may be that people throw around the terms “poor” and “poverty” too freely. I know for certain that many people who consider themselves just middle-class are, in fact, quite wealthy. However, in this case I mean it when I say we were poor.

    We weren’t poor for my entire childhood. There were long stretches when things were going well and we were simply lower middle-class (though never above that). But there were also months at a time where my father was out of work and it was a struggle to find food. Without a support network through church and family, we would have been hurting. We were poor. Not impoverished, mind you, and not destitute. But we were poor.

    But arguing over who is rich and who is poor isn’t productive. I never question anyone who tells me they grew up poor. If it was true for them, it’s true for me.

  11. S.S. says 06 September 2010 at 22:22

    This book sounds similar to Suze Orman’s past books dealing with the psychology and our behavior with money. I agree that changing our relationship with finances takes more than just looking at numbers – we can all do budgets, but the key question is why don’t we stick to them.

  12. Gardenia says 07 September 2010 at 03:03

    Now, that is a book I would like to read… I have decided to turn my finances around recently and I am still struggling with the mental side of financial organisation. The anxiety that comes with accumulating debt on one side and compulsive buys to “make myself feel better”.
    Your observations on money blueprints and money mantras also rang very true for me.
    I have tried to put a few mantras a month on the whiteboard in my hallway to appeal to my “better self”. The whole endeavour is still very much a work in progress, though…

  13. Justin says 07 September 2010 at 05:59

    @Jaime #1
    The statement that there are far to many books on finance written and they in general all state the same thing hits home with me. In the past 5 years I have read 10 or more books on personal finance. Each one, says to do a budget, insure, save, spend less than you make, etc.
    But like another commenter said WHY can’t we follow these goals. It feels like there is something underneath, an “invisible wall”(money script??) that must come down before we can achieve our goals. I hope this book addresses that. It looks like a must read.

  14. Rose says 07 September 2010 at 06:21

    I really think that in order for someone to understand how to save and get real about money they need to be emotionaly in tune to their feelings that go behind the why!

  15. Ely says 07 September 2010 at 10:04

    @ #4, I agree that if people are lazy, crazy, greedy, or stupid, they will have money problems. However, not everyone who has money problems IS one of these things. They don’t tell the whole story. Being responsible for something is unhelpful if there is no appropriate follow-up action; and a lot of people just DON’T KNOW what to do. If changing the money blueprint helps someone, it helps everyone.

  16. Lysander says 07 September 2010 at 10:59

    As I have begun to get my finances under better control, I have realized that the first step is learning the basic rules, developing the skills and building the tools that you need to need to be successful with money. But once that is done (and most people that can be done in a very short time) it all comes down to the psychology of how we deal with money. Changing the way that we view money and interact with money is the KEY reason that the whole personal finance industry exists. My personal experiences have taught me that until I master the mental game my finances will always be an uphill struggle

  17. Mike - Saving Money Today says 07 September 2010 at 11:34

    Sounds like an interesting read. I agree that personal finance is largely psychological. It’s common sense to most of us that we need to save money, pay down debt, invest for our future, etc. But sometimes when faced with a decision we throw common sense out the window and make a poor decision.

  18. Jen says 09 September 2010 at 06:43

    Thank you for reviewing this book. I have a smaller book by the same authors, “The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer SCrooge.” It also looks at the psychology behind how we handle money.

    I find this topic interesting because I was raised to know how to handle money, BUT I’ve recognized that something is off in how I FEEL about moeny. I didn’t grow up poor per se, but money was tight. I remember hearing my mother worry about money and always wanting more. So, my money script is “You can’t afford that” or “you’re broke,” even when the reality is far from the truth! So while feeling like I’m broke may help me save, it can and has prevented me from planning for the future.

    For instance, I could have been a homeowner sooner if I had believed I could be and saved for a down payment. Instead, I thought it was out of my reach so I didn’t bother. This probably cost me a bundle in a higher down payment and mortgage interest because I didn’t buy until right after the real estate peak. If I had been more confident I could have bought before the peak. Speculative, but still an example of what it can cost you to be caught up in a faulty money script.

  19. Anna says 13 September 2010 at 20:27

    Hey, that whole “financial flashpoints” and “bad money script” thing reminds me pretty much exactly of my reader story.

  20. Monica says 17 September 2010 at 12:29

    This is an interesting book review.

    As so many other people have said, I believe that if you want to do better, you have to understand your emotional relationship with money.

    I am the co-owner of Money Plain & Simple, and a person’s emotional relationship with money, we call these Money Roles. There are 8 money roles in our program: penny pincher, underachiever, pious, martyr, uncertain, unfulfilled, deal chaser, and reckless.

    Cynthia what you said about frugality (which I refer you to our Penny Pincher description) is so true. I personally can relate. I also think that being a Penny Pincher, or someone who is frugal, can limit your ability to make money. If you are always worried about spending money (the common business mantra “to make money, you have to spend money”) then if you own a business, you may not spend the requisite money to realize your business goals.

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