Unhealthy Money Attitudes and How You Can Change Them

  • Many lawyers have a complicated relationship with money; it’s no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed
  • No unhealthy relationship with money is permanent! It’s possible to improve your views toward money—as well as change your behavior
  • Talking to an expert, whether that’s a financial planner or a psychologist, can be helpful

It’s a stereotype that has some truth behind it: As adept as most lawyers are at key life skills like logical reasoning and time management, we’re not always great with money.

Our lack of money management skills often stems from our feelings and beliefs around money. That’s a problem, because unhealthy attitudes toward money can hinder us when it comes to how we live our daily lives and save for the future.

A number of years ago, financial psychologists and founders of the Financial Psychology Institute, Drs. Brad and Ted Klontz, identified four types of unhealthy relationships people tend to have with money. Fortunately, the doctors also found that the way we feel about money doesn’t have to be permanent.

Below, a breakdown of the four categories—and what you can do if you recognize yourself in any of them.

Attitude 1: Money Worship

Lawyers who fit into this camp believe that everything will be better in life once they get a big raise or come into a large inheritance. They believe that money can solve any problem. The issue, of course, is that none of that is true, and many people in this category carry revolving debt, which can hurt their ability to save.

Attitude 2: Money Avoidance

People in this group often are younger and have lower incomes, so lawyers fresh out of law school are prime candidates. Those who experience “money avoidance” keep a distance from money, believing it is bad or that they don’t deserve it. To make matters worse, these beliefs often cause anxiety and fear any time money is a focus.

 Attitude 3: Money Status

Do you equate your self-worth with your net worth? Lawyers in the “money status” category equate money with status, and that they need to display their wealth to impress friends and colleagues. They’re also more likely to take big (sometimes irresponsible) risks with money, which can harm their ability to plan for the future.

 Attitude 4: Money Vigilance

Those who watch their money extremely closely and feel anxious about the possibility of ever running out (no matter how realistic that fear may or may not be) might be experiencing “money vigilance.” Lawyers in this group also might underplay their own wealth thanks to feelings of guilt.

Do you see yourself in any of these descriptions? What behaviors or beliefs can you attribute to your money attitudes?

So … What Now?

The first step to improving your relationship with money is to recognize what’s going on. Discussing money is so taboo in our culture and the four categories above are often unconscious, so discerning the harmful ways you view money can be difficult at first. Be honest with yourself about where your attitudes toward money came from and then seek to challenge those beliefs.

It’s also important to acknowledge that these views can be hard to change on one’s own. To that end, experts suggest taking one of three actions to begin to improve your relationship with money:

  1. Outsource: Just like your clients outsource their legal needs to you, it can be helpful to outsource your financial needs. Set up a meeting with a financial planner (some firms even have built-in partnerships with financial planners, so ask around) to get an expert take on what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. If you’d like more of a personal touch and aren’t touchy about a peer knowing how much money you have, think about the estate planning attorneys you know or are employed by your firm. Pay for an hour of their time to get their take on what you’re doing well and what might need some work.
  2. Talk to a Therapist: If you’re finding that money is causing you significant stress, anxiety, guilt, or any strong negative emotions that interfere with your quality of life, or if you’re constantly making the same money-related mistakes over and over, talking to a therapist can help. “Money disorders” are real, and plenty of therapists have experience treating patients who struggle with a healthy relationship to money.
  3. Pick Someone’s Brain: Not ready to take the plunge and hire a professional? As a lawyer, you’re likely already surrounded by resources. As mentioned above, estate planning attorneys can be a great place to start, but help doesn’t have to come from someone with a focus in finance. Instead, look to friends, family, and colleagues you admire or who are in a position you want to be in one day. Buy them a cup of coffee and ask to pick their brain.

Putting a plan in place is key to overcoming any money-related obstacle. By spending time understanding your relationship with money and talking to others who can help you, you’ll be well on the path to improving—which is half the battle to achieving your financial goals.