There’s been a lot written about “money personalities” recently—that is, the different mindsets that determine our relationship to money.
In reality there are as many different “money personalities” as there are personalities (so, about 7 billion). But it’s useful to look at a few general categories and think about which one best describes you. A fun way to do this is to find your “money mascot”—the animal that best describes how you deal with the green stuff.
Flamingos. Flamingos are comfortable at the lavish Vegas casino named for them or luxuriating beside an exclusive Caribbean lagoon—money is meant to be spent, enjoyed, and shown off. Flamingos want the newest toys, the fastest cars, the flattest HDTVs. When space tourists start showing up at the moon, it will be Flamingos leading the charge, flying first class all the way.
Flamingos are fine as long as the money keeps rolling in, but when funds run out, they’re left high and dry. If the Flamingo is your money mascot, ask yourself exactly how much you’re spending, and what you’ll do if your income experiences a hiccup.
Think about trimming on things you value less so you can afford the extravagances you’re truly after. Maybe your true passion is fashion but you don’t really care if you have the highest-tech entertainment center; maybe you love live music but you could do without island hopping the Mediterranean this summer—by prioritizing your “must-haves” over your “why nots?” you can make sure the money you do have will keep you in fine feather.
Squirrels. Squirrels are the opposite of Flamingos. To the Squirrel, money is for hoarding and hiding away. Squirrels spend quite a bit of time getting money, but they aren’t happy until it is safely tucked away in some secret spot (under the mattress, behind the refrigerator, in a no-interest-yielding savings account…) The idea of parting with their money causes Squirrels a great deal of distress (as in real life, getting between a Squirrel and its nuts is a bad idea).
If you are a Squirrel, you need to appreciate that money is in and of itself worthless, i.e. it has no intrinsic value. Saving money is great, but saving for saving’s sake, without goals and targets, can make you miss opportunities that might be enriching.
If you are a Squirrel, make sure you have plans for the money you’re putting away to someday work for you.
Bears. Bears are the original splurgers—from Winnie-the-Pooh raiding his honey pots to grizzlies gorging themselves on salmon, bears love to get as much as they can when they can get it. Winter is always just a season or two away, however, and Bears head into their caves and try to do as little as possible, waiting for good times to come again.
If the Bear is your money mascot, you love to spend when you’ve got it, but when the river ices over you’re left without a Plan B and have to retreat into supreme cost-cutting mode, waiting for the bad weather to pass. The problem with this feast-or-famine strategy is that in good times you might be wasting money, and in bad times you are unable to take advantage of good opportunities.
For Bears, the important thing is to learn to save consistently (in an emergency fund, for example) to get you through the tough times.
Rabbits. Rabbits have two default settings: “basically asleep” and “BLIND PANICKED TERROR.” Rabbits go from apparently not thinking about much at all to I NEED TO GET AWAY and back again in a matter of seconds.
If you’re a Rabbit, you put off worrying about money until you find yourself running around in a state of panic. This is not a healthy approach to financial management. Instead, come up with a financial plan with clear steps and achievable goals. Make a budget and stick to it, and come up with savings and investment plans.
By thinking about money consistently, you’ll find that it is not that scary. A lot of that fear comes from a sense of helplessness; by taking hold of your financial destiny, you can prevent yourself from reaching a point of frantic, long-eared, bucktoothed dread.
Beavers. As animal stereotypes go, you could do a lot worse than “busy as a beaver” (“as dumb as an ox” and “as bald, overweight and mustachioed as a walrus” come readily to mind), but even with such a great reputation, it turns out that beavers are also getting a bum rap. Beavers are busy sometimes, sure: they can rebuild a destroyed dam overnight, for example. But for a lot of the year, beavers take it easy, feeding on the wood they’ve saved up in the comfort of their watertight, secure homes.
If you’re money mascot is a Beaver…congratulations. You realize that reasonable expenditures of time, resources and effort will provide you with great long-term benefits as well as quality of life in the present. There’s a reason “as frantic as a beaver”is not a saying. Beavers approach financial decisions with cool heads and an appreciation of the balance of the finer things in life with the necessity of smart saving and planning.
The most important thing to remember about your money mascot is that, unlike in nature, nothing’s set in stone. By thinking rationally about your financial strategies, by following through once you’ve come up with a good plan, and by being able to adapt to changing circumstances without panicking, you too can join the ranks of the happy Beaver clan.
Because when it comes to money mascots, a tiger really can change its stripes.