Money Motivations- Alien to Clients, but Known to You!


Have you noticed that clients’ Emotions and Thoughts (ET) about money often seem like aliens from another planet? Most of them lie outside of their conscious awareness. Yet they’re powerful drivers of behavior. It makes sense to continue our efforts to help clients be more mindful with their money – that means being both aware (informed) and attentive (action). I call that getting the extraterrestrial of our clients’ money styles “back to earth” and able to make prosperous decisions.


In many cases, clients’ underlying motives and resulting actions are actually more mindless than mindful. Therapists have been known to say mindless is a form blindness. Thoughts, emotions, and cravings are often simply not seen. They’re automatic unconscious habits that have formed over many years. How do we as advisors find and discuss problem areas without alienating clients? Can they become more mindful by pairing awareness with attentiveness, resulting in modified actions when needed?


There are several keys to helping clients raise awareness and acceptance of their inner money motives. Natural resistance may occur when they deem their own inner motives to be negative, inferior, or unacceptable. The first step recognizes this natural tendency and provides an “All Okay” platform for understanding these common tendencies.


Clients participate in assessing several factors using a continuum or list that identifies eight common Money Styles.  These are driven by two primary forms of motivation: “Avoiding and Seeking.” Clients identify their dominant “Seeking Styles” from eight neutral outcomes. These are then paired with the companion “Avoidance patterns,” to encourage making behavioral and psychological connections. Corresponding behavioral Drivers that propel action are linked next. 


The Eight Money Motivations


Below are the eight money motivations we introduce to clients to help them heighten awareness of their historic style and preference with money.


_____ Seek Prestige   #___ (social esteem or distinction)
_____ Seek Spontaneity   #___ (arising naturally and without constraint)
_____ Seek Peace # ___ (freedom from hostility; calm)
_____ Seek Simplicity   #___ (easy to understand or do; clear and uncomplicated)
_____ Seek Virtue    #___ (moral excellence)
_____ Seek Security   #___ (protected; to make certain; freedom from worry)
_____ Seek Control   #___ (power or authority to regulate or restrain)
_____ Seek Growth   #___ (to increase, cultivate; ability to thrive)


Clients can simply use the above as a checklist and pick their top two or three. They can also give themselves a weighted score from 1-5 to express the degree of dominance they perceive exists for them. We use a questionnaire to assess the scores for each of the eight, which adds client interest and commitment to integrating the information into their planning decisions.

What’s avoided or propelled in our actions, given our core motives:

_____ Prestige motives
                  …tend to Avoid Mediocrity…which propels achievement orientation & affluent lifestyles
_____ Spontaneity motives
                  …tend to Avoid Discipline…which propels creative ideas & impulsive decisions
_____ Peace motives
                  …tend to Avoid Conflict…which propels cooperative compliance & inconsistent choices
_____ Simplicity motives
                  …tend to Avoid Details…which propels streamlined methods & procrastination
_____ Virtue motives
                 …tend to Avoid Greed…which propels charitable inclinations & modest lifestyles
_____ Security motives
                 …tend to Avoid Loss…which propels cautious contemplation & limiting choices
_____ Control motives
                 …tend to Avoid Chaos…which propels consistent savings and precise recordkeeping
_____ Growth motives
                 …tend to Avoid Low returns…which propels profit orientation and growth investing


Questions to Ask Clients

The low-tech version of this still nets high-communication. Guide clients with these questions and you’ll get rich information in return:

1. We all have multiple motivations that steer our financial decisions. From this list, what would you say your top two or three are?

2. Each of the motivations has strengths and challenge areas, which are summarized here, using “avoid and propel” actions. Can you comment on these when you reflect on your personal financial history?

3. In the challenge areas of each, are there particular issues in which you’d like our guidance so that you can improve your satisfaction with your outcomes?


Summarize your clients’ wishes using their own words, and convey what you will do to help them improve. Help clients “come back to earth” by balancing their money motivations and propel their implementation of wise financial strategies. They won’t be alienated by your extra attention; they’ll become your most loyal fans.

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