Dr. GoodCents: The Meanings of Money

Written By:


Dr.GoodcentsA clinical psychologist with nearly 30 years of experience, Dr. Shapiro is ready to answer questions, offer advice and share strategies to help you alleviate the mental stresses of money management. Send your question to GoodCentsDr@gmail.com and it may be answered in an upcoming column!

Money and material things have different meanings to different people—and frequently they have a variety of meanings for the same person. These meanings range widely, from “The love of money is the root of all evil” to a passionate conviction that riches are the key to happiness. Where do all these meanings come from, including those that make sense to you?

[Check Your Credit: Don’t Guess. Know.® Get your free credit report and score. No credit card required.

If your answer is that your beliefs about money and material things are a simple matter of common sense, you might want to pause and think again. This is not because your beliefs don’t make sense—they undoubtedly do. However, when it comes to multifaceted issues like money, many different beliefs have validity, including beliefs that conflict with each other.

The Meanings that Move You

Although money and material things have so many potential meanings that it’s impossible to list them all, I have summarized some common beliefs in the questionnaire below. If you want to score your questionnaire, use a scale from zero to 10 to say how much you disagree (0) or agree (10) with each idea.

____ When it comes to money, every little bit counts; small amounts add up.

____ Being thrifty means being pessimistic about the future.

____ Expensive possessions give life a glow of pleasure and success.

____ Being thrifty makes people safer.

____ Buying the things you want will make you happy.

____ Small amounts of money spent or saved won’t make any difference to your
overall financial situation.

____ If you want to build a secure future, you can’t buy everything you want day to

____ People who worry about everyday spending decisions are losers.

____ People who understand life and have good values don’t care very much about
having expensive possessions.

____ Being careful about spending gives you more control over your future.

____ Anything can happen to money when it’s saved, so it’s best to spend what you
have when you have it.

____ People who say they’re not materialistic just don’t have the money to buy
nice things.

____ People who value non-material things are comfortable being thrifty.

____ Even though our financial lives are affected by factors beyond our control,
being consistently careful with money builds security in the long run.

____ If you spend money with confidence, the future will take care of itself.

____ The more you appreciate what you have, the less you need to buy.

What the Scores Mean

To score your responses, first add up the numbers you wrote for questions 1, 4, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14, and 16 to get a sub-total. Then, add up the numbers you wrote for questions 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, and 15 to get your second sub-total. Finally, subtract your second sub-total from your first; this is your total score on our questionnaire about money-related beliefs.

The questionnaire is set up so that a score of zero means there was an exact balance between responses supporting thrift and responses supporting free spending. Negative numbers mean that pro-spending responses predominated; the larger the negative number, the stronger the predominance. Positive numbers mean that pro-thrift responses predominated; the larger the positive number, the stronger the predominance.

[Check Your Credit: Don’t Guess. Know.® Get your free credit report and score. No credit card required.

Because the questionnaire items don’t have right and wrong answers, it wouldn’t be correct to consider high scores good and low scores bad. However, if your total score is a large positive number, you hold a set of beliefs that make it easier and more comfortable to be careful with money. If your total score is a large negative number, you hold a set of beliefs that make it harder and less comfortable to be thrifty.

Stay tuned to this column; next time, we will explore possible origins of the meanings we hold about money and material things.