I wrote and published my own personal “money story” awhile ago, and it’s drawn enough steady traffic without a lot of promotion to make me think that people are eager to read stories about money that are human, honest and vulnerable — full of missteps, insecurities and all the weirdnesses that surround money, but also full of optimism and resilience.
Of course, I only really know my own money story, with chapters centered around new ideas, practices, realizations and experiments. I’ll continue to put mine down here occasionally — because having a sense of sovereignty over our money situation is a big influence in feeling some ‘spark’ in life. And a big part of that for me, personally, was “Figuring Out Your Money Personality.” Because once I realized money advice shouldn’t be “one size fits all/fit yourself into some overly bougie ideal,” then the next key is figuring out what advice you should take. And a big part of that is figuring out who you are when it comes to personal finance.
Now, I find personality frameworks in general to be fascinating — astrology (Cancer!), Enneagram (4-7-1 tritype!), Myers-Briggs (INFJ!) and such. But interestingly enough, when it came to a personality framework around money, I knew of nothing out there in popular discourse. So I dug around and got this framework from a podcast I listened to ages ago that interviewed a woman named Monica Shah while researching an article I was writing for one of my freelance jobs. But it absolutely resonated with me, and over the years, it has really held up. I don’t purport to be an expert, and so I can’t tell you if these are innate, or if they change over time (though I think they do.) But…I can tell you they were useful!
I’m sure there are way more specific ways to look at money personalities, but I like how these can be broken down around how people deal with anxiety or worry around finances. Most of us are a blend of types, and can see aspects of ourselves in perhaps all of them at some point in time — but there usually is a dominant type that drives your behavior. So if you’re in doubt about yours, look at what you do around bills, spending and the like when it comes to everyday life. Do you spend impulsively on a regular basis and then get shocked when you get your credit card bill? Do you let your bills and bank statements pile up? Do you find yourself balking at giving servers tips? Are you super aware of your balances in every single account you have? Have you give away your labor, time and talents, but feel just a little “exploited” at times? That will be a clue to what type you mostly are.
Avoiders don’t actively avoid money, really. They’re often more distracted or “too busy” with other very important aspects of their life to deal with finances. Who has time to deal with bills when there are books to write, family excursions to plan and a to-do list to tackle? Money just doesn’t compute in how Avoiders think, feel and go about life. In a way, this insulates them from the ups and downs that come with money — how they feel about life doesn’t have too much to do with their bank balance.
But as a result, they tend not to deal with it much, and don’t have practices and systems in place to deal with it. And they’re not really aware of ways to make money work for them. This is the type that doesn’t open bank statements, gets late fees because they forgot to pay a bill. They might feel vaguely that they “should” be doing something more when it comes to personal finance, but they can get pretty overwhelmed trying to figure out where to start. And when it comes to dealing with their financial issues, they tend to stick their head in the sand about it or feel paralyzed by what they think they should do? Their learning process around money is simply integrating into their everyday life, and to become more intimate with their hidden baggage around finances.
(By the way, I’m a total Avoider!)
A saver type is conscientious about money — it is an area of life that they apply great care and thought to, at least in terms to the everyday parts of it, such as spending and saving. Obviously, they like to save up their money once they get it. They tend to be very aware of their financial situation, and even savvy in certain ways and take great pains to maintain a solid financial footing. Traditional personal finance LOVES savers, as you can imagine.
But this type can veer into hoarder territory in terms of money, or become cheapskates. You know what I mean: they can be lousy tippers, or skip out of paying their portion of a shared bill. They’re avid bargain hunters, but sometimes to the point of pointlessness. In full honesty, sometimes this type is just not a lot of fun — they don’t enjoy life, even in small cost-effective ways. At heart, they are risk-averse and put security first, but this comes from a fear of privation — as well as a haunting sense of scarcity. They deal with their perceived scarcity of love, pleasure and what have you by holding onto money as a way to make them safe or boost their self-esteem. But deep down, no matter how much a saver manages to hoard up, it will never erase the fear of impending disaster or scarcity — it will never erase their fears of “not enough.” Their big thing to learn in terms of finance is creating a more expansive sense of prosperity in life — and using money wisely as a way to create the lives they long for.
Money experts bag on spenders, and yes, crazy spending is a big problem, especially in a consumerist society like ours. (And yes, this is a fashion blog, so I’m aware of the irony of pointing this out.) But spenders, at their best, enjoy life and use money to create experiences and settings that boost their pleasure and enjoyment for themselves and others. At their best, they recognize money as a valuable tool in creating life — and approach life itself as a kind of “work of art in progress.” Once they have a strong personal finance foundation underneath them, they achieve a great balance — that ideal of “being a good master of money,” not a slave to it. They also, at their best, are very philanthropic and are generous and creative with their time and resources.
The hard part is creating that foundation, though. They are emotional and impulsive, spending first and thinking later. They often do get a high when they spend…and then feel a bit (or a lot) of guilt afterwards. A big part of their learning process, then, is to really understand their spending — the emotions driving it, especially — without falling into guilt or self-loathing. And yes, they often do need to learn to spend a little more mindfully, in a way that doesn’t feed a sense of privation.
This personality — which I also think of as the “money monk” — has a different cross to bear from the other types. This is the type that things money is inherently evil and corrupting, rich people are pigs and to want to simply improve or master this domain in life is somehow untoward or unseemly. They have perhaps strong religious or political convictions around money, and yeah, they likely find tons of evidence in real life of corporate greed, personal corruption and the like. (Because the news is full of stories of greed and corruption of wealthy corporations and people!)
Their great strength in life is their idealism and their ability to think of themselves in connection with community, history and society — but it can make real life a little hard to deal with, and they often can feel very powerless when it comes to personal finance. For example, they have a hard time asking for what they’re worth when it comes to wages and salary — they lowball themselves when it comes to their work and deprive themselves of much deserved income. They may want to do or put creative or spiritual work in the world, but they feel “greedy” asking for the value of their time and labor — and then burn out or feel resentful for getting “nothing” from it. And when they do raise rates or work for anything but “free,” they feel deep down unworthy. They feel victimized by money, so they avoid it and don’t put systems and practices in place to manage it. A big part of a money martyr’s learning process is reevaluating their personal attitudes, perhaps, and seeing how money can be a powerful tool in creating a life and world that reflects their values.
So, here’s the thing: I’m not a psychologist, but I’m pretty sure there’s no one perfect way to be. I know society valorizes the saver types — and saving is a great habit to have, of course — but every money personality has its strengths and foibles.
You can try to cram yourself into a type you think sounds appealing, but my philosophy (about everything now, really!) is generally to learn who you are, accept yourself and then work within your own positives and limitations to create habits, mindsets and maps around money that empower and make you feel strong and solid in this area of life.
The trick isn’t to become another type — instead, it’s to understand yourself. Each type has its own learning process, with key habits and practices tailored to it, which I’ll get into next. Personal finance isn’t “one size fits all,” and after getting to know your money story, knowing your type is the next step in crafting an approach tailored for you and your values.