Ever notice how one friend tenses up when you suggest evenly splitting a restaurant check, while another insists on covering the bill every time you go out? Or wondered why your partner cares so much about owning an expensive car, while you obsess over saving for the future? It comes down to this: Money means different things to different people.
As Brent Kessel, financial expert and host of the meQ Financial Well-being track, explains in It’s Not About the Money, “No matter who you are, you come to your financial life with remarkably unique life experiences, all of which have conditioned you to respond to money in particular and sometimes peculiar ways.”
In his book, Kessel identifies distinct financial archetypes: collective patterns in people’s behaviors and beliefs around money. While everyone is a combination of each, we all have a defining “core” type that represents our deepest-held feelings about money. These types are reflected in our external financial lives. However, we can—and need to—change them when they no longer serve us.
See if you can identify your money type in the list below—and better understand the saving and spending habits of both yourself and of those around you:
1. The Guardian: “Something is going to go wrong.”
Motivation: Preparing for the worst-case scenario.
Pitfalls: Feeling too anxious to act on financial decisions in a level-headed way.
Guardians spend a lot of time worrying about worst-case “what-ifs,” such as economic collapse or making a single mistake that leads to bankruptcy. Counteract this fear by seeking out concrete information: read up on relevant research, ask others for advice, or reach out to an expert if possible. Then, try to get a practical read on the probability of the worst-case scenario and plan out proactive steps you can take.
2. The Pleasure Seeker: “Money is meant to be enjoyed.”
Motivation: Enjoying the good things in life.
Pitfalls: A tendency to spend impulsively, which makes it hard to stick to a budget.
See if you can identify and let go of just one impulse of wanting each day. At the end of the day, ask yourself: Do you still feel the impulse, or did your attention shift? This will help you become aware of how much your actions are driven by habit and create a pause between sensing an impulse and taking action.
3. The Saver: “Saving provides security.”
Motivation: The more money Savers have put away, the safer they feel.
Pitfalls: Feeling a panicked loss of security when they have to spend.
To build a more balanced approach, set aside money ($1 a day, $100 a month…whatever works for you) that’s devoted to spending and generosity. Spend half on material objects or experiences that make you happy, and give the other half to a cause that you care about.
4. The Star: “Money is required for respect.”
Motivation: Cultivating feelings of pride, recognition, and increased self-esteem.
Pitfalls: Constantly moving the goal post and struggling with feelings of inadequacy.
Identify what’s driving your spending: When you feel an impulse to spend, what are you actually hoping to buy? How often do you get the desired reaction? When you do get the desired reaction, how long does it usually last?
5. The Innocent: “Money is confusing. I can’t deal with it.”
Motivation: Feeling overwhelmed by financial matters.
Pitfalls: Innocents are often in the dark about their financial situation.
Even if you’ve had bad financial circumstances in the past, how can you reshape your current situation? Kessel’s suggestion: Start by holding onto a set amount of money for at least three days to feel more in control. Then, if possible, save a little each month in a separate, untouched account.
6. The Caretaker: “Money is best spent by helping others.”
Motivation: Wanting to assist family, friends, and their community—and to feel needed.
Pitfalls: Can perpetuate a cycle of dependency and resentment.
If you realize you’re giving too much and your dependents are capable of more independence, slowly begin to wean them off of your support. In most cases, they’ll benefit more by learning to help themselves. Look for other ways to be generous—after all, your time and energy are resources, too.
7. The Empire Builder: “Money gives me the power to create something of lasting value.”
Motivation: Using financial success to make a lasting impact on the world.
Pitfalls: Always wanting to achieve more.
Think about ways to leave an impact that aren’t dependent on financial success. Devote resources towards your community and invest in your non-material assets, particularly your relationships—with yourself, those you care about, and the greater good.
Elior Moskowitz is the Content Coordinator at meQuilibrium. A frequent Cup of Calm contributor, she also writes for various major business journals and lifestyle publications. Elior holds a B.A. in Psychology and English, with special training in both positive psychology and mental health counseling.