Decoding the Dialogue: What Are Your Inner Voices Saying About Money?

Having helped many people work through limiting beliefs around money, I've realized that it's never one limiting belief or one painful emotion that blocks people. Usually there's an entire chorus of emotions, which I'll call "voices," clamoring for attention.

Here are 7 inner voices that often speak to people, consciously or subconsciously. Do you recognize any of them in yourself?

  1. The Voice of Hiding

"What if they find out about my debt / my bad investment decision / how much money I spend on X / that I can't afford Y? What will they think of me?"

This voice fears the judgment of others. This voice is afraid that if whatever bad thing you've done comes out into the public, people will think you're stupid, a bad person, etc. This voice wants to hide, to conceal. I suspect this voice is powerful inside people who begin with financial mistakes that turn into large-scale financial frauds--they weren't necessarily greedy, they were just willing to do anything to cover up their original error.

  1. The Voice of Comparison

"Well I'm [30 / 40 / 50 or whatever age] and I don't own a home, I don't have a car, my business should be making $500,000 a year, I should be a partner / VP of whatever / managing director / [whatever fancy title] by now, I should, I should, I should by now"

This voice compares you to an arbitrary standard of what a person like you "should" have achieved. Sometimes the arbitrary standard is influenced by a peer group, family, parents, or society as a whole. No matter what you've achieved, this voice always finds you lacking. This voice is the voice of doubt about one's self-worth. People have built entire empires in a futile effort to get this voice to shut up.

  1. The Voice of Avoidance

"I don't want to look at it, I don't want to think about it, it's too much for me to handle"

This voice feels overwhelmed. It's the most common internal narrative I hear from people I talk to. This voice is especially loud for people that have never been taught finance (which is most of us). The problem seems so big and so impossible that even getting started feels hopeless. When confronted with a hopeless situation, it makes sense that people will avoid the situation as long as possible.

This voice is closely related to the inner drive to procrastinate. Avoiding financial problems is another form of procrastination.

  1. The Voice of Impatience

"Why haven't I figured this out yet? Why am I so bad at this? What am I doing wrong? Why isn't this working for me?"

This voice is frustrated about the gap between your present state and where you want to go. This voice has a vision--often a clear one--of where you want to go, but doesn't know how to get there. The voice also sometimes has unrealistic expectations about the speed of progress. My mentor Owen Marcus says that this gap is often where the difficult emotional progress has to be made.

There's nothing wrong with feeling this frustration or impatience. If everyone knew exactly what to do and always did it right immediately, people would... immediately achieve the results they want. But the world doesn't work like that.

If this voice is familiar to you, can you be grateful for whatever progress has been made?

  1. The Voice of Scarcity

"I don't have enough in my bank account / investment account / whatever, it's going to run out, I can't afford to let go of this"

This primordial voice is trapped in a survival response--perpetual fight or flight. It is afraid that there won't be enough resources to eat, to stay warm, to be healthy, ultimately resulting in death. It is the voice that takes the often-useful question, "what could go wrong," and exaggerates it to extremes. Sometimes this voice is loud because a person experienced privation and want in their youth--it is especially prevalent in generations that grew up with economic hardship. This voice's strategy is to gather more, save more, hoard more, but unfortunately, no amount of resource accumulation will make this voice feel safe.

  1. The Voice of Regret

"I wish I had started investing 15 years ago, if only I bought a house when interest rates were low, if I could go back and do it over again"

This voice is very much focused on the past, and past "mistakes." It can only identify what went wrong, and never what went right. It thinks about what's missing, and where the grass would have been greener. In dwelling on lost time or lost opportunities, the voice often stymies taking actions in the present--the other voice that says "it's never too late."

  1. The Voice of Possibility

"I see [xx] money in my bank account, I can't wait to get a new widget / sign up for that class / invest in that stock / pay down that debt, I love the feeling of cash in my hand"

This voice is excited about everything you can do with money. It's a voice of freedom, of possibility, of potential. Unlike the other voices I've mentioned, this voice is motivated by a pull towards something, rather than a push to stay away from something. That doesn't necessarily mean it's better or more useful, just that it's different. Listening to this voice overmuch can lead to fantasizing.

These seven voices are not the only ones that participate in a person's inner narrative about money. You may recognize some of them as lifelong companions of yours, while others seem totally alien. As you reflect, you may identify more voices that I didn't mention here. That's good. In order to improve our relationship with money, we have to recognize what our internal narratives are, and who repeats them.


The first step in bringing inner harmony to this chorus of voices is recognizing and accepting they exist, without judgment. This week's exercise:

  1. Journal Prompt (15 minutes or 1 page): Which of these voices do I recognize in myself?
  2. Noticing: Which of these voices tends to be the loudest in me? Can I notice one instance this week, in the moment, when one of these voices is speaking?
  3. Challenge: Can I share, with one person I trust, the inner narrative of one of these voices?

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