Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Your Beliefs about the Rich May Be Keeping You Poor

When we have a negative association with money we risk financial self-sabotage!

Your Mental Wealth Advisors
Source: Your Mental Wealth Advisors
  • “People get rich by taking advantage of others.”
  • “Money corrupts.”
  • “Good people should not care about money.”

Alex is a 45-year-old owner of a tech consulting firm. For 10 years his business has been growing at a decent pace, although he can never quite seem to get ahead. He has a tendency to undercharge for his services but he can’t seem to break the habit. In fact, he hates negotiating fees and quickly gives in to requests for discounts even though he knows he provides a superior service. Alex knows it makes no sense, but he feels guilty asking for higher fees because it makes him feel like he is being unfair or greedy.

Alex’s subconscious beliefs about money are sabotaging his success.

Your Money Scripts

Researchers refer to beliefs about money as money scripts. Like lines being read by an actor, money scripts are firmly held beliefs we recite to ourselves. They typically lie outside our conscious awareness and are passed down to us by our parents and grandparents. We arrive at them by observing how those around us talk about money, hearing their opinions about the rich and the poor, and watching their financial behaviors.

Our exposure to diverse perspectives on money is often limited, since we tend to hang around those with similar beliefs and financial status. As a result, our money scripts are often based on partial truths about other groups and are rarely challenged. We are launched into the world with a set of money scripts that are firmly held, but based on a limited perspective. Alex’s money scripts fall into the category of money avoidance – beliefs that rich people are greedy, it is not okay to have more than you need, and there is virtue in living with less money.

Your Early Money Experiences

We come by our money scripts honestly. We learn them as children. Alex grew-up in a lower income family and heard his parents frequently talk disparagingly about wealthier individuals – a greedy landlord, an unfair boss, a wealthy family member who thought he was better than everyone else. Money avoidance beliefs could also arise if you were middle class but were mistreated by a wealthier classmate or excluded from a group or activity because your parents couldn’t afford it. With these experiences under your belt, it would be a logical conclusion that wealth and bullying go hand-in-hand or that the wealthy have an unfair advantage. When this theme is repeated throughout your life and you spend most of your time with people who hold the same beliefs, the connection between rich people and a disregard for the welfare of others can become hardwired. These assumption then act as mental filters whereby you pay close attention to examples that support the belief that “money corrupts” —say Bernie Madoff—and discount or ignore information that disputes these beliefs—like The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Financial Self-Sabotage

When we hold a negative association with money deep in our subconscious, like Alex, we are at risk of financial self-sabotage. While we believe that more money could improve our lives, we never quite achieve success. Whether it’s having trouble asking for a raise, squandering a financial windfall, loaning money to someone we know can’t repay us, giving away money we can’t afford to give, making a bad investment, or hiding our financial success from family or friends, money avoidance can keep us from reaching our financial potential. Studies in the Journal of Financial Therapy and the Journal of Financial Planning have shown that money avoidance beliefs are associated with lower income, lower net worth, overspending, and financially enabling others.

Re-Writing Your Story

The good news is that since money beliefs have a clear link to financial outcomes, changing your beliefs can change your outcomes. An important step is to identify exactly where these beliefs came from. Ask yourself:

  • What three things did my mother teach me about money?
  • What three things did my father teach me about money?
  • How have these lessons helped me?
  • How have they hurt me?

Once you identify your money scripts you can make a conscious choice to change them. There are many examples of wealthy individuals engaging in nefarious behaviors, but by examining his money scripts, Alex began to fill in the rest of the story: there are also many wealthy individuals who have done great things. Alex can use his new awareness to change his script, repeat it to himself before he goes into a negotiation, and see if it has a positive impact on his results: “I can make a good living and be honest and trustworthy.”

Our money scripts are often distorted – they do not represent absolute truths. By identifying, challenging, and changing your money scripts, you can change your financial trajectory.


Klontz, B.T., Sullivan, P., Seay, M.C., & Canale, A. (2015). The wealthy: A financial psychological profile. Consulting Psychology Journal: Research and Practice, 67(2), 127-143.

More from Brad Klontz Psy.D., CFP
More from Psychology Today
More from Brad Klontz Psy.D., CFP
More from Psychology Today