Why Does Money Make Us All a Little Crazy? | The Motley Fool (2023)

Motley Fool senior analyst Jason Moser discusses:

  • Walmart(WMT 0.20%) cutting guidance for the quarter and full fiscal year.
  • The ripple effect for shares of Amazon, Costco, and Target.
  • Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke's memo to employees about layoffs.
  • Whether Shopify's falling stock, close to a three-year low, looks like a buying opportunity.

Robert Brokamp talks with financial psychologist Dr. Brad Klontz about why we're all a little crazy about money.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on July 26, 2022.

Chris Hill: Walmart went down and took a bunch of retailers with it. Motley Fool Money starts now.

I'm Chris Hill. Joining me today, once again, back by popular demand, Motley Fool Senior Analyst Jason Moser. Thanks for being here.

Jason Moser: I don't know about the popular demand, but thank you for having me.

Chris Hill: How about this: coming out of the bullpen?

Jason Moser: Whatever it takes, right?

Chris Hill: We got to talk about retail because that is the story of the day. And we'll start with Walmart. Walmart doesn't report earnings until mid-August, but shares are down 8% this morning, which, for a company of its size, is an enormous move. Walmart cut guidance for the current quarter and the full fiscal year. They say higher prices are causing customers to buy less. So Walmart is cutting prices to reduce inventory.

It's not just Walmart, Jason. This is a retailer of such size and importance that it is dragging other major retail stocks down with it -- Target, Amazon, and Costco, just to name three.

Jason Moser: I think this really does speak to the pernicious nature of inflation. It's something that we talked for a long time, many years. It just felt at some point another, inflation was going to have to rear its ugly head, and then it just sneaks up on you. Now, all of a sudden, it's what we've been talking about here for most of the year. It doesn't look like it's a discussion that's going to be ending anytime soon.

The interesting thing here in regard to Walmart is they're actually calling for U.S. comp sales to clock in a little bit higher than initially guided for. They're seeing positive action on the revenue side of the business, but the costs involved are weighing more and more on the overall business. Operating margin is expected to clock in at around 4.2% now for the second quarter and somewhere in the 3.8% to 3.9% range for the fiscal year.

This is Walmart. It's a company that operates on razor-thin margins already. When you see any cost pressures like this, it's understandable the reaction from the market. Although I would argue, it feels to me like it's a bit shortsighted. But we're at a period now where uncertainty is high. We know that when uncertainty is high, you typically see reactions like this from investors, and that puts us to where we are today.

Chris Hill: You have to assume that somewhere in the back of management's mind is what happened recently with Target, where Target came out and was forced to say, "We completely blew the inventory mix." We saw the huge reaction downward for Target stock.

With Walmart, it's not so much about the inventory mix but just the inventory piling up. Clearly, they wanted to get out ahead of this, because when they report in mid-August, there are going to be, understandably, a lot of questions about back-to-school shopping, about early indications around the holidays, and they're taking a hit today. I guess the calculus is "Better we take this hit now and get out ahead of it."

Jason Moser: I think that makes perfect sense. I think if there is a silver lining to this, they continued to gain share in the grocery space. I think a lot of folks, they don't think about Walmart through that lens. But really, I mean, Walmart being one of the nation's leading grocers. That's something that looks like it is continuing to become more and more of the case.

They run into a situation in food inflation at double digits. It's higher now than was at the end of the first quarter. No surprise. I think we're all feeling that. Every time I go to the grocery store, I'm a little bit taken back by how much it costs just to buy stuff to make one dinner now. It is something that's impacting everyone. But it forces us as consumers to make different choices. When we talk about inflation, how to deal with recessionary times. There is no silver bullet.

Sometimes it really just boils down to sometimes you have to make different choices. You have to sacrifice a little bit here and there during the tougher times. Food, obviously, be a need as opposed to a lot of the other things that Walmart sells, which are oftentimes consider just wants, we learned about that in grade school, you got to make those choices between the needs and the wants. Right now, the needs are clearly winning out.

I agree with Walmart's decision here to go ahead and take the hit on the pricing to keep this inventory moving. No. 1, Walmart, we mentioned, they operate on such razor-thin margins. What comes with that is they rely on volume. They just need to keep moving stuff. They keep that inventory turn rate going. The longer they let inventory sit on the shelves, the more they play into that inventory becoming obsolete. Then they have to write off even more. Take a little pricing now because they know that still people are shopping, it's just they're having to change the mix of that basket, so to speak.

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Again, this is a timing thing. It's not something that will last forever, but it is something that's going to be playing out here over the course of the next several quarters.

I do think it's really interesting to think now the implications of what's going on in regard to inflation and how that is going to play out this holiday season, because we're knocking on August's door, and the holiday season is right around the corner. We're going to start adding more and more of these conversations.

Chris Hill: It's going to be really interesting when they report. When we hear from Target, Costco, all the bricks-and-mortar retailers going to be really interesting to hear what they all say about traffic. Because part of the calculus for Walmart is "We're going to cut prices and maybe that affects the average ticket. But we gota make sure the traffic stays the same or increases. We have to continue to be the place that our customers come to for value."

Jason Moser: I think that's a great point, and that's something to remember when we focus on these retailers. You look at restaurants as well, anywhere from Walmart to Home Depot and anything in between there, you focus on not only the size of the ticket. The amount of money each ticket represents but how many tickets. The number of transactions. You look at the size of that ticket, the number of that tickets, and that gives you an idea of how traffic is going and then how people are spending.

Because if you remember back a year and a half, two years ago, with a lot of stockpiling going in, a lot of pantry stuffing going on, you would see lower numbers of transactions with far larger tickets. People were going in there and just buying a lot at once, which was a bit abnormal. Definitely something to pay attention to in the coming quarters is both the number of transactions and the dollar value of those transactions.

Chris Hill: Shopify reports Wednesday morning, but it's in the headlines today because CEO Tobi Lütke sent a memo to employees saying the company will be laying off 1,000 people, roughly 10% of the workforce. He wrote that he misjudged the boost that Shopify got from the pandemic. I'm quoting from the memo here: "We bet that the channel mix the share of dollars that travel through e-commerce rather than physical retail would permanently leap ahead by 5 or even 10 years. It is now clear that bet did not pay off."

As a Shopify shareholder, I genuinely appreciate Lütke saying, "I blew this. The buck stops with me." This is also a pretty astonishing and rapid fall from grace that this business has had when you think about where it was a year ago in terms of its share price and the planning that they made.

Lütke went on Twitter, posted the memo after this story was reported. Even went so far as to say, "We've got some really great people at our company, and unfortunately we have to say goodbye to them." He included an email address saying, "If you're hiring, drop an email to us, and we can put you in touch with some of our employees."

All of that is great, but I'm really stunned at how quickly the tide has turned for Shopify.

Jason Moser: Yeah. I guess, given what we've seen with so many of these other stay-at-home stock names, I'm not as surprised as perhaps I would have been if Shopify was one of the first shoes to drop. But really, we've seen this play out with a number of these businesses over the last several quarters here where this stay-at-home-stock mania has fizzled out. Ultimately, a lot of growth gets pulled forward, but that doesn't necessarily imply a new standard going forward. Sometimes, it's just growth that's pulled forward and then things start to normalize a little bit, and that's what we're seeing now. I definitely cannot blame them for a decision that didn't work out.

I too I'm a Shopify shareholder and have recommended the stock in one of my services. I remain optimistic with where the company is headed. I appreciate Tobi's transparency, his honesty, his empathy. He really did get out in front of this. I think that's what you want to see with a leader, particularly a leader that continues to tout that the company is so mission driven. I think he sees well beyond just the financials. At least, that's the message he communicates.

I think it was reasonable to think at the time that the acceleration in e-commerce was real and would continue. Again, I think that that acceleration is real. It's still likely to a degree. But again, we go back to this normalizing. If he published a graph in the letter on their investor relations site -- which I encourage anyone to go read it because I think it's very well-written, and gives you just an idea of what a leader he's trying to be -- but it just shows this nice, smooth line up of e-commerce capturing retail share over time. Then you see this little blip over the past couple of years, this little mountain that just forms on that line.

That is what we've seen with a lot of these businesses. They saw this unique stretch of time over the last couple of years where they pulled a lot of success forward, but that wasn't necessarily normal. We're getting back to this normalization.

They are far from the only company to overhire during this stretch. I think in their line of work, it's very reasonable to make that mistake of overhiring. There are a lot of businesses out there where overhiring was not the best idea in the world. Depending on what market you're pursuing, it's understandable in their case.

I also look at a company like Amazon as a comparable here to think, well, Amazon's dealing with this to an extent as well. Not necessarily the same way, but Amazon overbuilt. They're dealing with all of that excess warehouse capacity. We've discussed that on these shows before, where they felt like a lot of that traffic was going to be the new normal. That turned out to not be the case. Now they're stuck with all of this excess capacity that they're looking to sublease out for a time until they can grow into that capacity, which they undoubtedly at some point will.

The difference between Amazon and Shopify is you can't fire warehouses. That's the difference. Shopify is in a little bit of a different position. They do have to rightsize the workforce is the economics demand and it's unfortunate, but I also do appreciate the angle from which Tobi is approaching this.

Chris Hill: I'm holding onto my shares of Shopify. I think there are enough questions for me personally that I don't see this as a buying opportunity. I understand anyone who thinks that way because, particularly in the context of the stock has fallen, let's call it 80% from where it was a year ago. But for me, personally, not now.

Jason Moser: Yeah.

Chris Hill: I want to see some things turn around.

Jason Moser: I'm with you. As a shareholder, it's not my largest position by a long shot. It's just a position I hold in the context of a well-diversified portfolio. I sleep well at night. This 15% hit today isn't going to make me lose a wink asleep. I do think there is plenty of opportunity for the business.

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But I also think you have to keep in mind even with the pullback, even with this fall from grace, Shopify as far from what we would call, conventionally speaking, a cheap or even reasonably priced stock. It's still a very expensive looking stock. I think part of that is based on the market opportunity that it pursues. But I do think you need to keep that in mind. As we like to say, price does always matter.

I too I'm hanging onto my shares. But yeah, I think I'd want to give this one a little time to see how they are going to be approaching the next several quarters with this business and how they're going to reassess the growth strategy going forward as e-commerce's gain and the overall retail margin starts to normalize.

Chris Hill: Jason Moser, appreciate you being here again. Thanks.

Jason Moser: Thanks.

Chris Hill: You could have all the right information and still make bad financial decisions. Robert Brokamp talked with Dr. Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist, about the fundamental reasons behind why we're all a little crazy when it comes to money.

Robert Brokamp: Have you ever looked back at your life and wondered why you make less-than-ideal financial decisions? You quite possibly knew better, but you just couldn't do better.

Here to explain why almost everyone isn't perfect when it comes to money is Dr. Brad Klontz. He's an associate professor of practice at Creighton University, the co-founder of the Financial Psychology Institute, managing principal of Your Mental Wealth Advisors, and the author or co-author of six books, including Mind Over Money and Mammoth Money. Dr. Brad, welcome to Motley Fool Money.

Brad Klontz: Thanks so much for having me.

Robert Brokamp: Let's start with you explaining one of the main lessons of your research, and that is when it comes to people making better financial decisions, information is often not enough.

Brad Klontz: That's right. We all are crazy when it comes to money. This is the diagnosis I'm giving everybody, all of our listeners.

What's strange about financial behaviors when it comes to psychological terms is that anyone is doing anything right to begin with. We are just not wired to manage money appropriately. A lot of this comes from just conceptualizing how we have spent 99.9% of our time on the planet. We were doing that within a cave-person mentality in a small group of 100 to 150 people banded together, fighting for survival. All of our natural instincts are related to increasing our survivability in that environment, not in modern society, especially around something that is so abstract as money.

Robert Brokamp: We're not designed to delay gratification, we're designed to make sure that we have a certain standing within the tribe, because if we don't, we could be kicked out of the tribe, which is essentially a death sentence a thousand years ago.

Brad Klontz: That's absolutely right. We're wired to respond to threats immediately, not to delay taking action because that would have picked off your ancestors. We didn't get those genes. It's trite and funny when I hear people say, oh, you shouldn't care about what other people think. Well, all of the people who didn't care about what other people thought they died out a long time ago, getting expelled from the tribe.

Even the concept of saving would have been frowned upon because it would have been seen as being a selfish activity, because we needed to share everything with the entire tribe to survive. Just the mere act of saving goes against some of our hardwiring. For those of us who grew up in lower-income environments, it is hardwired into that even now, where it's like, hey, you need to share what you have. It's an expectation.

Robert Brokamp: Yeah, when you look back on our suboptimal habits and decisions, and surprise, surprise, they come from our childhoods, there could have been things our parents taught us deliberately or accidentally or other experiences we had. You call the most significant experiences "financial flashpoints." Explain what those are.

Brad Klontz: Built on this craziness that everybody has, we have our own individual craziness, if you will, based on our experiences we have around money. Financial flashpoints are those typically early-life events that have a profound impact on our psychology around money because we're trying to make sense of what happened to us. These things can be anywhere from things that are quite traumatic.

For example, I found out in looking into my family psychology around money that my grandfather lost all of his money in the Great Depression. That is a financial flashpoint experience. He goes through the bank one day, all his money is gone. That shaped his entire psychology around money the rest of his life, and big surprise, he walked away with this belief: you can't trust banks with your money.

These things go from dramatic and traumatic to being very simple things. Another example is a client I had who I asked him why he didn't go to college. I was teaching at Kansas State at the time, and his wife went to Kansas State, his parents went to Kansas State, his siblings went to Kansas State. I was like, "What year did you graduate?" He's like, "I didn't go to college." I thought this was curious. I was like, "Why didn't you go to college?" He's like, "Well, I wanted to be an entrepreneur." I said, "Hold on a second, I'm not going to let you off the hook. I'm a psychologist." [laughs] "Where did you get that belief and that understanding?"

He thought about it for awhile, and he traced it back to playing the Game of Life. Do you remember the Game of Life where you take a little?

Robert Brokamp: Oh, yeah.

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Brad Klontz: Yeah.

Robert Brokamp: A little blue and pink pegs.

Brad Klontz: That's right. Then he learned as an 11-year-old, if I skip the little college track, I can go straight to making more money. He built his entire approach to education and business around the Game of Life. That is a financial flashpoint, one that he didn't even remember, but it had a profound impact on the rest of his life.

Robert Brokamp: That is quite something. We all have these experiences.

You mentioned Kansas State. I first came across your work by getting my graduate certificate in financial therapy at Kansas State. One of the assignments was to talk to our parents and grandparents, if they were still alive, about their money histories, their earliest money memories, and things like that. You say that from these experiences, we create our money scripts. What are those, and what are the four types?

Brad Klontz: In our attempt to make sense of those financial flashpoint experiences, and quite frankly, the experiences of our parents or grandparents, sometimes our great-grandparents, we develop a set of beliefs around money, and really, we're just trying to make sense of things.

For my grandfather, the belief is you can't trust banks around money. Now, he passed that down to my mother, too, you can't trust financial institutions around money. So my mother never invested, which is one of the reasons why we were low income and low net worth for much of my life. We have these set of beliefs that we get based on those experiences.

In our studies, and we've studied, I think, upwards of 100,000 people at this point, we have found distinct patterns of money scripts, and they drive our financial behaviors for most of us. Since money is somewhat of a taboo topic, we don't talk about these things, but we found four main categories. Three of them are bad for you; one of them is good for you.

The first category: money avoidance. This is where we think money is bad. Rich people are greedy. There's virtue in having less money. No big surprise that that's not great for your financial health. People have lower income, lower net worth.

The problem with these money scripts is, we can identify right now, we can even name names of people who are rich and wealthy and are terrible human beings. That's the problem. There's an element of truth in all of these money scripts, but they become problematic when we don't see the subtleties and the context and realizing that they're only partially true.

The second belief we found in our studies we call money worship or money focus. This is where we think more money, more stuff's going to solve all of our problems. Probably no big surprise that leads to overspending, higher credit card debt, because we're trying to fill this emotional need around that with money and stuff that we really can't fill that way.

The third category we found is money status, which is the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses psychology. This is where if people ask us how much money we make, we say we make more than we actually do. We won't buy something unless it's new. This is our desire to show our status to other people so that they will love and accept us. This is also associated with terrible financial outcomes. Growing up lower income is actually associated with that.

Then the fourth category is the good one. This is money vigilance. This is where you believe that it's important to save for a rainy day. Ironically, these individuals will actually downplay how much money they have.

This is something that I really ring the bell on a lot on social media. Trying to educate people on what actual self-made billionaires, how they actually live their lives, how they describe themselves, and they describe themselves as frugal, and they sort of downplay how much money they have. They do the opposite of what young people are seeing on Instagram.

Those are the four categories we found in our studies.

Robert Brokamp: Now, you took a look at the differences between ultra-high-net-worth people and more to middle-wealth people. You found the ultra-high-net-worth people have like 20 times the wealth, but they only spend maybe twice as much.

Brad Klontz: That's exactly right. I'm impressed with your knowledge of that study. I was shocked. I was absolutely shocked. We looked at a group that had $11 million in net worth on average, and we compare them to a group that had about $500,000 net worth. You would expect them to be spending at a multiple compared to what they have. But that's not at all what we found. It was only twice as much. It's pretty shocking.

Robert Brokamp: By the way, if you wanted to get an idea of what your money script might be, you could take the Klontz Money Script Inventory at moneyscripts.com.

From our money scripts, that's our attitudes, our history, and then there's our behaviors, and some behaviors aren't so good. You call those money disorders, which you define as persistent, predictable, often rigid patterns of self-destructive financial behaviors. In your experience, what are some of the most common money disorders?

Brad Klontz: There are money disorders, I look at them on a continuum. They're really severe ones that would require you, frankly, to get into psychotherapy to fix. We're talking about gambling disorder or hoarding disorder or compulsive buying disorder. Those are actually affect significant portion of the population, around 6%, roughly, for each one of those categories.

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But I think the average American tends to have a money disorder in terms of our savings rates, our relationship with credit card debt, our lack of planning for the future. This is something that we struggle with. I think that's what most Americans historically have been struggling with: undersaving and overspending.

Robert Brokamp: Some of the disorders you term as relational. A couple that I've found particularly interesting are financial dependency and financial enabling, which I think a lot of people wouldn't think of. They're probably familiar with compulsive buying and all that. But the relationship you have with money in regard to your other relationships can have a big impact on your net worth as well as their net worth.

Brad Klontz: That's right. Some of our studies have suggested that people who are most vulnerable to giving money away in ways that hurt themselves and perhaps hurt the other person, a lot of those individuals tend to be higher income but come from lower socioeconomic environments. This goes back to that tribal mindset, which is certainly where I came from. Growing up lower income, it's where you're supposed to share everything. We feel this real desire.

By the way, this is a beautiful thing actually too, this concept that I want to share what I have with other people. It becomes enabling when it's financial help that actually hurts. There's financial health that can help. Financial enabling is when it hurts, and this is when we're giving away money that we can't afford to give away. So it's hurting ourselves and our family. But more importantly, perhaps, it's creating possibly dependence in the recipient of that money.

By the way, this is the same psychology around multigenerational welfare families as multigenerational trust-fund families. There's a dynamic around being dependent on nonwork income that can be really destructive, and our studies have found that it leads to a lack of creativity, a lack of passion, a lack of drive, and resentment toward the source of the money. That's what we want to avoid is that financial dependence.

Robert Brokamp: We've touched a little bit on the role of trauma. People think of trauma, they think of something like really violent, like an assault or you were in a war. But it doesn't have to be that; it could be something just very emotionally charged, especially to a kid.

In some of your work, you discussed about how trauma actually can physically change the brain. What's interesting about that is a lot of these money disorders, if you see them in other people, you just want to shame them and blame them and say it's just a matter of willpower or weakness. But there actually could be some physical component going on there.

Brad Klontz: That's absolutely right. What's frightening is that some of this trauma can get passed down from your grandparents and your great-grandparents and from your culture, and you might not even know the story. All you know is you have this intense anxiety or mistrust, or you have some emotional response to a financial situation and you're not even sure why. That's what trauma does.

Trauma is anything where you're feeling that your life is threatened, you're not sure if you're going to be able to care for yourself. Growing up poor, especially in poverty, is just a series of traumatic events where you're constantly worried about your own survival. That has a profound impact on our relationship with money.

As a financial advisor, I work with a lot of ultra-high-net-worth individuals, and some of them who are self-made and really, really driven, when you look back into their past, they come from a poverty background, and they have this mindset like, "I'm never going to be poor again," and it has so much energy associated with it that it becomes somewhat dysfunctional.

So they're really, really good at saving money and accumulating assets. But they live a life like Ebenezer Scrooge of almost like a poverty-type lifestyle where they're denying themselves. They're basically eating gruel, not heating their house. It's just that Ebenezer Scrooge mindset, which is not healthy either.

But yeah, trauma can have a profound impact on our lives. Also in the markets too. We did a study back in 2008 where we saw financial planners were having posttraumatic stress symptoms based on the market declines. That's another thing we need to watch out for, because people will then approach investing in harmful ways in the future based on this emotional experience they're having right now.

Robert Brokamp: Let's say someone does some research, does some reflection. They've determined their money scripts, maybe identified their disorders or at least just ways they could be better about money. Now what? How does someone go about actually changing?

Brad Klontz: What's so fascinating is that sometimes just connecting the dots can radically change your life. You're struggling with, for example, you're in too much credit card debt, and you realize that you're starting to pay attention to your thinking because you just listened to this podcast, like "What are my money scripts?" You might have this fear that they'll never be enough money. You can connect that to, "Oh, well, that's because I grew up poor or my parents grew up poor. I can just subjectively look at my situation. Be like, well, I'm OK now, maybe I can enjoy some of my money."

That's part of it. Part of it is saving for the future and enjoying today. You need to have both to have financial also sometimes just being aware of your money scripts and your financial flashpoints, you can de-shame yourself. It's like, "Of course I made this boneheaded mistake around money. It's based on where I came from. And now I know better."

Sometimes, however, you have really strong emotion connected to it. I'll use my grandfather's example that you can't trust banks with your money. That was such a deep wound for him. He died at age 94. He never put a dollar in the bank the rest of his life. That's when it becomes dysfunctional.

If you know better and you understand why you're doing what you're doing and you have that awareness, but you just can't change this behavior, then it's time, I think, that you should consider seeing a therapist who can help you with probably some trauma and working through some of the emotions related to either a financial flashpoint you experienced directly or something that your ancestors went through.

Robert Brokamp: Well, this has been fascinating. Dr. Brad, thank you for joining us.

Brad Klontz: Thanks for having me. My pleasure.

Chris Hill: As always, people on the program may have interest in the stocks they talk about. The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear.

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I'm Chris Hill. Thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Chris Hill has positions in Amazon, Costco Wholesale, Home Depot, Shopify, and Target. Jason Moser has positions in Amazon, Home Depot, and Shopify. Robert Brokamp, CFP(R) has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Amazon, Costco Wholesale, Home Depot, Shopify, Target, Twitter, and Walmart Inc. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2023 $1,140 calls on Shopify and short January 2023 $1,160 calls on Shopify. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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