When many of us think health and wellness, we think exercise, nutrient-rich foods, regular checkups and (hopefully) getting enough sleep. We rarely think money.

But “financial wellness is a component of overall wellness,” according to clinical psychologist Joe Lowrance, PsyD. He works with clients to identify problematic behaviors around money and create solutions for a healthier relationship.

“Financial health is having a conscious and purposeful relationship with money that is satisfying and isn’t overly stressful,” said Brad Klontz, PsyD, a financial psychologist and director of research at H&R Block Dollars & Sense.

So what does this look like?

Financial health or wellness includes: spending money based on your values; having low or reasonable debt; saving money to meet your goals; and having a safety net, such as an emergency fund or insurance, according to Klontz and Lowrance.

Our financial relationship today stems from childhood, which is when we develop “money scripts,” Klontz said. These are our beliefs about money, which drive our financial behaviors, he said. And usually, we’re not even aware of them.

Money scripts are shaped by “direct experience, family stories, and parental attitudes,” Klontz said. In his research at Kansas State University, Klontz and his team found a link between specific money scripts and lower incomes and net worth.

“Specifically, money avoidance scripts (e.g. ‘Money is unimportant,’ ‘Rich people are greedy’), money worship scripts (‘More money will make me happier’), and money status scripts (‘Your self-worth equals your net worth’) are all associated with poor financial outcomes,” he said.

Improving Your Relationship with Money

Fortunately, regardless of the state of your relationship with money, you can take steps to improve it. Klontz and Lowrance shared these suggestions.

1. Shine a spotlight on your scripts.

“It is critical to make your unconscious money scripts conscious,” Klontz said. This way you can begin to challenge your scripts and change them to improve your financial situation, he said. When your scripts remain unexplored, they can influence your behavior in negative ways – and, again, very likely without your knowledge. He recommended two practical strategies to explore your scripts.

  • Interview family members. Ask your family about their early experiences with money, Klontz said. “Every family has a story around money, and family money scripts all make sense when we know the story.”
  • Recall your earliest money memory. Ask yourself these questions, according to Klontz: “What is your most joyful memory around money? What is your most painful money memory? What lessons about money did you learn?”

2. Know thyself.

“Our relationship with money is embedded in our larger sense of self,” Lowrance said. He noted that “Money can serve as an important gateway to a deeper, [fuller] understanding of ourselves.” You can learn more about yourself by paying closer attention to your behaviors around money, then use this knowledge to improve your financial functioning.

For instance, someone who goes to the mall and ends up buying items they don’t need might actually be feeling lonely, Lowrance said. Realizing this can lead them to fulfilling their needs in healthier ways (and saving some cash).

A husband who’s unhappy with his wife’s promotion might really be anxious about potential changes in their relationship and his role as a man in their marriage, Lowrance said. This understanding may prevent needless arguments and kickstart a productive talk about their new financial situation.

3. Consult reputable resources.

One of the reasons people have a poor relationship with money is misinformation or lack of information, Lowrance said. Reading reputable books can help. Lowrance suggested The Money Trap by Ron Gallen; The Secret Language of Money by David Krueger; and Klontz’s Mind Over Money.

4. Consult the experts.

If your financial wellness is anything but well, seek professional help. For instance, look for clinicians who specialize in financial psychology. As Lowrance said, “Asking for help or seeking support is not a sign of weakness or deficiency; it is a sign of wisdom and an act of courage.”

Money is a taboo topic. But once you start exploring those buried beliefs and behaviors, you can build a better relationship with something you previously might’ve seen as an enemy. And if you need some help to dig deeper, don’t hesitate to seek out books or an expert.

Financial health photo available from Shutterstock