Saundra Davis was once homeless. At 15. Then she was molested. Then she met an abusive partner who ended up dying by suicide in front of her. But instead of drowning her, these traumas propelled her forward.
Today at 59, she is a successful financial planner after having gone back to school at age 44 for her masters, before becoming the founder and executive director of Sage Financial Solutions. She’s also an outspoken advocate helping domestic violence survivors and low-wealth communities reach financial freedom. Davis believes spending money should be intentional—what we buy defines who we are and what we value.
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Additionally, for those of us who are parents, how we spend money, and how we talk about money or not talk about money, is something we pass down to our children. This is known as a money script.
Do you know your money script?
Give It All Away
Let’s say having money makes you nervous. You don’t think you’re worthy of it, so when you get it, you give it away to someone more deserving. As a result, you avoid looking at your bank account balance, you overdraft often and you don’t have much in terms of savings. But, you’re generous, so this is justified. According to financial planner Brad Klontz, Psy.D., co-founder of Your Mental Wealth where the idea of money scripts originated, you may have “Money Avoidance.”
This was the boat Davis was in—she just didn’t realize it until she started reading Klontz’s books. She says money scripts “helped me bridge the gap between what I was learning and what I was doing.”
“My mother ... every dime she ever made, she spent,” says Davis. Her mother passed away two weeks prior to Davis getting up and speaking in front of hundreds of women at FreeFrom’s Survivor Wealth Summit last July in Los Angeles.
Davis told the crowd that she used to give all her money to her family in the form of gifts and vacations, leaving her bank account in the red. “I had two ulcers but my family was living good,” she told the audience with a laugh.
She told DomesticShelters that the money script her mother passed down was both helpful and harmful. “It was helpful that it made me resilient, this idea that I could always make more money. If I took a bump, changed careers, you move on.” It was harmful, says Davis, because she didn’t learn the value of saving.
“Because I think there’ll always be more money... but what if that’s not true? When we have a money script ... we have to determine where it is helping us and where it is not helping us.”
Is Money Everything?
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If you’re not trying to avoid money like it’s the plague, you may be trying to hoard as much of it as possible, which is not always a bad thing. Where it gets tricky is if you begin to feel like no amount of money is ever enough. This is called “Money Worship.” This money script will lead you to believe that money will solve all your problems. People in this category often have high credit card debt, purchasing things in order to try and find happiness.
A similar script is called “Money Status.” In this, an individual ties their self-worth to their bank account balance, prioritizing outward displays of wealth. They may have grown up in a family that valued social standings.
And finally, there is “Money Vigilance.” People who identify with this script will find that they are very watchful of their financial standing, they believe in working hard, not taking handouts and saving carefully. While these individuals may be more financially healthy than others, they can also experience high levels of anxiety around their financial future, preventing them from enjoying the security money can bring in the present.
What Does This Mean for Survivors?
Survivors of domestic abuse can often find themselves financially unstable post-abuse. The abuser may have controlled all the money. The survivor may have been told they couldn’t work, they didn’t deserve money, they couldn’t be trusted with it. A survivor may not even know where to begin to acquire a modicum of wealth. He or she may not even think they deserve money.
“What would it mean to put yourself first?” Davis asked the crowd of survivors at the Wealth Summit. Instead of looking at money as a means to pay bills, look at it as security.
“Putting that $500 away a month feels like you’re building security,” says Davis, which is possible by budgeting smartly, asking for a raise, moving to a lower rent apartment. But it’s impossible, Davis says, if you don’t believe you deserve security.
Survivors may also veer toward the money vigilance script, protecting their income so tightly for fear it could go away that they have a hard time appreciating any financial success.
“If someone has made you feel less than, how is that impacting your daily financial choices?” asks Davis. “Do you avoid asking for the raise you deserve? Do you feel it’s your responsibility to pay for everyone when you go out to eat?”
Being mindful about spending has been a big part of Davis’ financial health journey.
“I’ve slowed down. I realize I don’t have to be everything to everybody but I am everything to me. That’s the real thing. I am my everything. If I don’t take care of myself, nothing else matters, because I can’t be here for my son and grandchildren.”
She says she finally found a partner who’s complimentary to her in all the ways, including financially— “He’s a saver I’m a spender. He supports me in what I do; he doesn’t control what I do.”
Even so, Davis plans for every possibility.
“For me to have security, I have to choose a security fund. I save $500 a month; that’s my Saundra security fund I ever feel unsafe.”
What Will You Pass Down?
On the Your Mental Wealth website, you can take an online quiz to figure out what kind of money script you most identify with. The questions ask to what level you agree or disagree with statements like, “Your self-worth equals your net worth” and “Money buys freedom.” Once you know, you can better understand what’s serving you and what’s not, and what you’ll be passing down to your children, if applicable.
“What do you want your children to know about money?” asks Davis. Be careful with statements like, “Oh, we can’t afford that,” she says. “You’re looking for a balance between understanding and not worrying.” Instead, she suggests something more like, “We have some financial goals and that doesn’t fit in. Let’s look at what you want and have a conversation about how you can save to get what you want.” Allow children to have some input in financial conversations, she advises.
Consider giving kids an allowance so they can learn about saving and spending wisely. Something like the Moonjar Bank can help children by separating their allowance into three separate containers—spend, save and share.
Learn more about how FreeFrom is helping survivors find financial freedom in “From Survivors to CEOs.”
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