Could How You Self-Identify Affect Your Finances?

Finance - can how you talk about your personal money situation influence your actual financial reality? I think the words we use make a difference.

My friend Dave and I recently saw the movie The Spy starring Melissa McCarthy. Melissa plays a CIA Agent who works as an analyst, but has never actually worked in the field. When an opportunity comes up to go into the field, no one can believe she is really qualified, because she is kind of timid and “doesn’t really look like your typical Agent.”

It was actually a pretty funny film, but there was one tiny thing that kind of bugged me.

On the way home we discussed the movie. I said that although I love Melissa, I get kind of sad that she is always playing the frumpy character who gets kicked around in life a bit. Like if you are not “Hollywood hot” in the film, then somehow you are playing kind of a low life. My thought was that the more Hollywood makes these films, the more we perpetuate stereotypes of overweight, non-smokin’ hot women. Meaning, why can’t Melissa play just a woman character? Why does she always have to be making fun of herself and the way she looks? Does doing so model unhealthy behavior, eating or otherwise, for others to follow?

Dave on the other hand thought of it completely different. He thinks it’s great Hollywood is bringing to light these subjects, because after all, in the end her character proved everyone wrong and she totally kicked ass. I seriously don’t think I was giving away any plot spoilers by saying that. 🙂

He mentioned Amy Schumer’s comedy, and how she is always creating skits that make fun of Hollywood stereotypes and women stereotypes, like how if you’re a woman over a certain age in Hollywood you’re “undatable (they use a more R rated word).” Do we really need to point out and say out loud that women of a certain age are “undatable,” or are we just bringing to light what is really true as far as stereotypes? For the record, I love Amy’s work.



I say all this because I’ve always been interested in psychology, and how our self-talk impacts our lives either positively or negatively.

I have a friend who is constantly talking about how she is carrying an extra 20 pounds and wants to lose the weight. I get having a one on one conversation about it, but she brings it up at dinner with friends, and pretty much every single time I see her. Now instead of seeing someone who is pretty and whose weight I hardly noticed, I can’t help but be focused on that, and feeling uncomfortable about it as well, because what am I supposed to say?

I wonder at what point she has said that so many times to herself that she actually now takes on the identity of someone who has 20 extra pounds on their frame.

Conversely, what if she said something more along the lines of, “I’m feeling really good but I’m always working towards living a more healthy life.” In a way she is acknowledging she has some work to do, but also being a little kinder to herself as well, and making people at the dinner table feel less awkward.

Finance - can how you talk about your personal money situation influence your actual financial reality? I think the words we use make a difference.

So What does this have to do with personal finance?


I think a lot. Are you always telling yourself, friends, and family, “I can’t because I’m broke.” Or, “I feel like I’m never going to get out of debt!” Do you constantly reinforce a negative state you don’t want to be in, and call attention to it outwardly?

I think you always need to choose your words carefully when you self-talk, because after awhile, you become exactly who you say you are.

If you think more like Dave, saying it as is brings to light the truth. For instance if you say you are broke, then you are honestly acknowledging where you are today and not sugar coating it. And not trying to pretend to be any different than what you are.

I guess like many things there is a compromise in there somewhere, but I’m curious to know your thoughts.



Do you think you should positively spin something negative you might be going through, or just flat out tell it like it is? Do you see a compromise in there somewhere? How do you talk about finances? Do you usually complain about how you have no money or focus on what you do have or have already accomplished?

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Tonya Stumphauzer

Tonya is a video editor/producer and writer living in Los Angeles who enjoys beach volleyball, playing ukulele, and running. Visit her blog Budget & the Beach!


  • I am yet to drop the 7 or 8 pounds of baby weight leftover from child #2, who is now 4. I suppose it can’t be called baby weight anymore! Anyway, I do bring it up from time to time. Hopefully, I’m not annoying anyone! =)

  • Oh man, this is a great point. I try to discuss money in terms more like “I’m paying off debt right now, so let’s do something cheap” or “I needed to top up my savings this month, so…” I think that helps — I want to think about my financial identity more as take-charge and kick-ass, rather than broke.

  • I think Melissa is just banking on what is working. I read an interview with her where she went after a reporter who panned her in a role because she looked frumpy. Kind of like you wouldn’t ever do that to a man but it’s OK for a woman, so I think she is trying to be a positive role model.

    I’m not sure people would like to see her playing a typical Jennifer Anniston role. It would be like Will Ferrell thing to do Mission Impossible or something. I don’t think the stereotypes are right, but I think she’s laughing all the way to the bank and maybe if we see more people that look like her on screen, it will encourage people to stop thinking Hollywood actresses need to look a certain way. Wishful thinking maybe, but you can always hope.

    • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

      You bring up very good points! And I think you’re right, she is laughing all the way to the bank, and it kicked Entourage’s butt this past weekend. I really like her, and all the other comedic actresses paving the way for up and comers.

  • Interesting perspective! I do see what you mean about her always playing the same character, but like another commenter says, I think she’s doing it over and over again because it works for her and she’s making money off of it.

  • Revanche says:

    I don’t think people who are locked into that derogatory self-identification cycle quite realize what they’re doing until/unless someone points it out. It’s the corollary to “if someone tells you who they are, believe them”: If you constantly tell me this is who you are, I’m going to take you at your word.
    But in cases like your friend, I like to borrow Brennan’s chastising of her brother (from Bones): I wouldn’t let anyone call you a loser, what makes you think you’re allowed to?

    It’s fair to say I try to be cognizant of how I’m self identifying as well. If nothing else, it’s more motivating to say “I’m ready to work on my next steps” than it is to say “I have no idea what I’m doing or why and where the heck is the exit to this rut I’m in?”

    • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

      It definitely sounds better! I just try to be more careful with my words these days.

    • I had this discussion with a therapist. I was so down on myself because of my limitations from chronic fatigue that I let it spill over into my vocabulary. I’d say that I didn’t do something because I was too lazy. Finally, my therapist said she needed me to change my wording. Don’t say “too lazy” say “too tired” or “bad depression day.”

      I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d heard… until I tried it for a week. It was shocking how quickly my attitude changed from one of chastising to one of something approaching acceptance.

      As for personal finance, I used to get annoyed at my husband because he would repeatedly tell me that he wanted to get something but then he remembered that we’re poor. We weren’t poor. We even had a small emergency fund and some savings. Having been truly poor in the past, I didn’t appreciate the negative approach.

      I vented about it on my blog, and my readers pointed out that, for him, it was a coping mechanism to help stymie his ADD impulsiveness. So that one I’ve let go. I still think it’s a mistake for him to frame it that way, but it’s what he has to do.

      As for your friend… maybe you need to interrupt her negative thought cycle. I have to do that with my depressive thoughts quite a bit.

      The next time she says anything, just tell her, “Well, I think you look beautiful.” Not just great — she can rationalize “great” as just a courtesy. But something like “beautiful” or “gorgeous” will make her at least momentarily jump to someone else’s perspective.

      My husband does this to me a lot. I won’t say that it’s vastly changed my self-consciousness about my weight — I’m around 25 lbs over my healthy point — but it does remind me to also see myself in a kinder light.

      And if she still harps on her weight, I say you call her on it. Tell her you love her, and you can’t stand to hear her be so mean to herself. So if she insists on denigrating herself, she needs to do it when you’re not around.

  • First of all, I’m a huge Amy Schumer fan as well! Secondly, I have always been a glass is half full kind of gal and I really do believe in trying to find the positive in any situation. There are times where it’s easier for me than others, but I believe that turning a negative into a positive is not only good for our mental health but it helps propel us in a positive direction as soon as possible. I feel like the times where I am more challenged to stay positive, all I do is stay in a bad place in my mind longer and staying in a bad place is not productive or healthy for me. Once I start changing the situation, I really do feel like it moves me in a better direction.

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