If there's one thing we've all learned the hard way over the past two years, it's the degree to which money affects every one of us on a daily basis. I recently had the chance to speak with Dr. Kathleen Gurney, Ph.D., the CEO of Financial Psychology Corporation, author of the book Your Money Personality and creator of the Moneymax Profile. Dr. Gurney has been researching the way Americans think and feel about their money for over 25 years. Through her research, she has identified nine broad "money personalities," amongst which people tend to be evenly distributed. Many high net worth investment advisers have found Dr. Gurney's money profile tool to be so powerful that they use it as the cornerstone of their financial planning practices.
One of the underlying tenants of Dr. Gurney's work is that when you understand your money personality you are better positioned to make financial decisions that you can stick with through thick and thin -- as opposed to having the kind of "manic response" that kicked in for so many during the bear market. By understanding your money personality, you can actually take the emotion out of dealing with your money. Here are excerpts from our fascinating chat:
How did you personally come to be interested in the subject "attitudes/feelings and the way in which people earn, spend, save and invest money?"
I worked for the Department of Defense as a Psychology Professor with the University of Southern California teaching at military bases throughout Europe. I saw first hand the way young people misuse their money as a result of earning a paycheck for the first time, being confronted with "deals" in the PX, and the financial and physical stress they endured as a result of lack of judicious decision-making. I was eager to explore the impact that our personalities make on how we use our money and to see if I could find any significant relationships and ways to then educate people to use that personal knowledge to make better use of money. The rest is history and has been the focus of my life's work.
What percent of Americans do you think understand their money personalities?
Probably around a third.
How can a person access your research to find out what their money personality is?
Take the Moneymax Profile questionnaire online (click here). It's a non-threatening questionnaire of 28 questions and you'll receive a full report immediately including your scores on the personality traits, your money management style and a money action plan of tips to make the best use of your money personality. There's a fee of $19.95 for this service and tool. You can also read my book, "Your Money Personality: What It Is and How You Can Profit from It." Many people find that they use both: first they discover their profile and then they read the book to learn more about people like them to receive more insight and feedback.
Ellen is a good example of the dramatic change that can occur.
How do Americans compare to other cultures with regards to their "financial psychological health?"
I have personal experience in having lived in several countries in Europe and particularly in France where I have lived part-time for fifteen years. Money is certainly not the scorecard they use to measure their satisfaction in life, nor their well-being. It is certainly respected in being able to provide for security and other personal needs but it is not used as a measure for judging personal value in friendships, partnerships, or life's meaning. Conspicuous consumption is not the norm as ads are delegated to the end of programming on television rather than every few minutes. Value is placed on a different currency than money as people and living life to the fullest are the keys to a rich life. Money is respected and not ignored but it is not the end goal nor given power over one's sense of importance.
Why do you think Americans were such poor savers over the past 20 years? What do you think needs to be done to encourage Americans to be better savers going forward?
Americans have been conditioned to believe that spending, consuming and having it all would be the key to happiness. We were experiencing such optimistic and bountiful times that we became over-zealous in our desire to have it all and pay the price to have it when we wanted it. This, of course, was a significant departure from the American norm of previous generations of savers and patient plodders. Unfortunately, Americans have now discovered that they've paid a very expensive price and have adopted new values of responsible saving. I just finished a tour with Capital One educating consumers about how they could develop healthy savings habits and take advantage of an exciting new offering by Capital One which eliminates will power decisions and automatically transfers $.50 for every debit purchase or online bill pay to a linked savings account and then matches it for the first three months and 5% thereafter for every eligible transfer up to $300 a year. I am excited about this tool and believe that American consumers can kick start their savings habit and make it subconscious as it will be automatic and rewarding at the same time.
If you could give just three pieces of financial advice from your standpoint as an expert in financial psychology, what would they be?
1. Control your money instead of allowing it to control you. People who are more involved with their money are also more confident and less emotional; therefore they make more suitable financial decisions.
2. Become aware of your attitudes and feelings about money and how they make an impact on the money you earn, spend, save and invest.
3. Take back your power to make the best use of your money so you use it for your well-being and values vs. trying to live another's dreams and definition of success.