Debt And Personality Type: Type A vs. Type B ( & our 11th slice out of Debt #3)

DFF = Debt-Free Friend
CF = Church Friend
DH = Dear Husband

Type A and Type B: a brief explanation and history

                I have noticed over the past couple of weeks that most people who write about debt and personal finances have a Type A personality. Of all personality designations, Type A and Type B are the most widely recognized. Type A is the hard-working, time-efficient, task-oriented individual who gets things done with a no-nonsense urgency. Type B is steady but relaxed, reflective, creative, and less stressed when goals are not achieved on time.
                Doctors Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman formulated the Type A and B personality theory in the 1950s in an effort to establish links between character traits and heart disease. They concluded, not surprisingly, that Type A was more likely to develop cardiac problems. Their studies were later deemed to be flawed in terms of the heart disease connection, but the Type A / Type B personality concept has endured.

What personality type are you?

                A quick Google search results in an abundance of personality tests. If you are interested in seeing how you score in terms of being Type A or Type B, here is a test I tried from the University of North Carolina.  I came out, as I would have guessed, Type B – but not in the extreme. There is a continuum between the two major personality types, and while I’m solidly Team B, I’m a little more than half way between extreme B and mild A.

How is personality type related to debt and personal finances?

DFF

                I have referred to DFF before. She is my Debt-Free Friend who nudged us towards the journey out of debt that we’ve been on for over two years now. She is quite simply a marvel of financial management – completely debt-free by mid-thirties on one income and with four children. Most remarkably, despite a marital break-up, she has been able to continue living in the family home as a debt-free, stay-at-home mom. And she still puts by impressive savings. In terms of personality type, I would say that Type A doesn’t quite capture it. Type A++? Type Triple-A? DFF talks about the minutiae of money at roughly the speed and intensity of a machine gun. Here is a sampling involving grocery shopping:
“I went to the bargain bin at Food Basics and bought $50 worth of stuff for $10.”
“I buy them in bulk, put them in the freezer, pop them into the kids’ lunches, and there you go.”
“I always check the receipt for mistakes. If I’ve been charged too much, I tell the cashier and get a refund. The grocery stores have a code of ethics, and if they overcharge you, they have to give you a refund up to $10. I’d say I catch mistakes two or three times every month. Add that up over a year and you’re talking a couple of hundred bucks.”
                My Type B brain suffers information overload at times when I’m talking with DFF, but we know each other well enough that I can ask her to cease and desist, and she’ll oblige with a loud laugh. She is a shining example of the positive impact a Type A personality can have on personal finance.

Type A and Type B obstacles to tackling debt

Type A pride

                Debtors come in both personality types, and I have noticed a defensive anger in the resistance of Type A debtors when challenged about their financial practices. (I’m not the one challenging them. Believe me.) “I have ALWAYS provided for my family. Don’t tell ME what to do!” It’s difficult to get through the defenses of these debtors, but once that hurdle has been overcome, there’s no stopping them. They’re paying off debt with the full force of their hard-wired urgency.

Type B complacency

Type B debtors are way more likely to acknowledge they have a problem. “I know. I’m so bad with money! It’s just a thousand little bad habits I guess.” They don’t have a pride issue; they just lack the sense of urgency that is so fundamental to their Type A counterparts. It can take an in-your-face crisis to get the Type B debtor moving. That is certainly true of me. I knew I had no concept of financial management, but I didn’t do anything about it until after we’d experienced the financial distress of DH’s prolonged period of underemployment/unemployment. CF (Church Friend) is one of the most likable Type B people you can find. Completely friendly, accepting, disarming, and safe, she has humbly acknowledged her weaknesses in money management for years. Despite the occasional resolve to address the issue, she remains comfortably in significant debt. I wish I could impart a sense of urgency to CF. I really hope she won’t need her own crisis to get going.

Type A angst

                I have recently been surprised at certain comments posted in blogs that indicate an undue level of stress among people who are doing very well financially. One young woman, for instance, expresses a problem with constantly second-guessing herself about money even though she and her husband are debt-free and saving 60% of their income. Another woman confesses her angst when she finds out someone else has purchased something in a more frugally clever way than she has. Some debt bloggers can barely face their shame when they’ve made a mistake of some sort. According to Simply Psychology, “Type A individuals tend to be very competitive and self-critical. They strive toward goals without feeling a sense of joy in their efforts or accomplishments.”

Type B peace

                As a Type B debtor who is making progress against debt, I have the benefit of feeling very pleased with myself for adopting relatively common practices of frugal wisdom. When I went Christmas shopping in March, for instance, and bought winter clothes on sale, I felt remarkably clever. Furthermore, when I hear or read of someone being way more frugal than I am, I don’t suffer self-doubt. I am often inspired to give it a try. But at least as often, I’m happy to think, Wow! That’s impressive. Good for them! – and leave it at that.

11th slice out of Debt #3

                I haven’t had complete Type B peace on this journey out of debt. I have felt the frustration of unexpected expenses and worry over times of slow business for DH. I have experienced impatience with the time it’s taking to pay it off, and regret at the fact that we got ourselves in so much debt in the first place. But overall, I can honestly say I’m encouraged and hopeful. We took our 11th slice out of Debt #3 at the end of July. We’ve been taking our debts on one at a time, and Debt #3, our business debt, was at $80,800 in December 2012. It’s gone down more slowly than I would have hoped, due to the unexpected expenses mentioned above, but July was a good month, especially because of my extra income from teaching summer school. Debt #3 was at $39,500 at the end of June, but take off $5,000, and it’s down to $34,500. That’s what I’m talking about!
                So are you Type A or Type B? Are you too proud to admit you’ve got a debt problem? Or are you too comfortable in your debts? Does a sense of competition deprive you of the satisfaction you should feel for the wise steps you’ve taken? Or can you soak in the encouragement of effective change? Are you aware of your own particular stumbling blocks? What can you do to navigate them?

Comments are welcome!

I would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)

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  • Overall I’m more type a, but I’m moving slowly to becoming more type b. But I was probably never the extreme type a to begin with, so it’s a little easier. I think both have their positive and negative traits, but I would almost always rather be type b, even if I needed a little more motivation in other ways to accomplish goals. I just think tie b’s seem happier regardless of their situation.

    • From the bit of research I did to write this post, I learned that it is possible to change from one type to the other – or from being less extreme in one type or the other. Thanks for your comment, Tonya : )

  • So….I scored 325 out of 380 on that test – I guess that puts me heavily leaning towards Type A. But I knew that already. 🙂 I think my sense of self-competitiveness, my NEED to be better when I go to bed each night better than when I wake up is the best part of being Type A. There are some people (Ahem, Tonya you reading this?) that are type A that want to be more type B. No. thank. You. I revel in my type Aness and even embrace it. 🙂

    • It’s a great thing to be accepting of who you are, but I think that if someone becomes aware of a desire for a shift in personality (à la Tonya), that can be a key part of personal growth. I know that I’m Type B, for instance, but I needed to stop being so complacent and to get more proactive. I’m still Type B, but I’ve shifted. Thanks for your comment, Travis. Keep on being your best Type A self!

  • Very interesting! I like your point about taking inspiration from others instead of suffering self-doubt–that’s a great way to think about it. I’m a Type A and I enjoy analyzing and competing (with myself) to save more–my husband is the same way and it’s just how we’re both wired. We high-five over low grocery bills all the time (dorky, I know, but we have fun!). Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

    • I like the high-five over low grocery bills! Not dorky at all : )
      I think that Type A competitiveness can be very effective – especially if you really are just competing against yourself. The fact that you do the high-five thing suggests that you allow yourselves to celebrate the victories you’ve achieved along the way, unlike those who “strive toward goals without feeling a sense of joy in their efforts or accomplishments.” Thank you very much for your comment, Mrs. Frugalwoods!

  • I am Type A, absolutely, but not to the extent I should be re: my debt. If I applied the Type A-ness to my debt that I have applied to other areas of my life in the past, I’d be debt-free already. I’m extremely frugal in some ways but unfortunately have poor impulse control in others. Then I beat myself up about having done something dumb, which makes me really buckle down and try to save, then I get to feeling “deprived” and then fall off the wagon, and then the cycle repeats itself.

    I’m an intelligent person. I should know better. I am so disappointed in the fact that I can’t quite kick this once and for all because it seems there is never a time when I can “get ahead.” Have gotten better at planning for emergencies but I will never have a $10k emergency fund. It just won’t happen, ever. So will I ever really have enough for life’s emergencies? :-/

    I would die before I would reveal to anyone IRL that I have a debt problem. Although now after reading so many financial books, I’m convinced everyone around me is too — and/or they are not saving for retirement, which I have managed to do at least.

    Online debt blogs have helped keep me going but have also contributed to my sense of failure. I see other people doing it so much better and I feel bad that I am struggling.

    • I appreciate your comment so much. Thank you for opening up. Debt is a widespread problem, but since personal finances are a taboo subject, so many of us feel alone in our indebtedness. I have no problem believing that you are intelligent, but I don’t believe you when you say, “I will never have a $10k emergency fund. It just won’t happen, ever.” I had to look up what IRL means. “In real life.” I’m glad you’ve taken the step of revealing your debt problem anonymously online. I am real, and I am with you on this. I was terrible with finances for years, and when an emergency struck (husband’s job loss), we went through a very, very tough time. Despite our bad track record, we’ve made encouraging progress over the last two years. It wasn’t easy to start with, but we’ve faced our weaknesses honestly, and it’s becoming normal. New habits are forming.
      You already know what your weakness is: impulse control. Try to gain more awareness of that issue. Is there a pattern to your impulses? What typically triggers them? If you can catch that trigger in the moment, you can stare it down and say “NO!” Or you can be tricky and say, “Not now.” If you make that impulse wait, it will pass.
      I would really like to hear from you again. If you won’t seek out an IRL support group at this point, you can have an online support group, and I want to be a part of it – cheering you on in your triumphs and offering perspective in your defeats. Don’t take this journey alone. Again, thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. I wish you all the best.

    • Great response, Prudence! Delays in purchases, putting them on a list for later are all good strategies for impulse shopping.

      Anonymous, I was touched by your comment, and if I may add my support as well. It takes a long time to take ownership of debt problems and behaviours leading to this, but once you acknowledge it you’ve basically won half the battle. Awareness is so important. We all fall off from time to time, so we should just learn from this to grow but not beat ourselves up for it, because it does become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as you say. The road is gradual but progressive. You’ve seen that already in yourself by being better at planning for emergencies. I’m much more frugal than I was over two years ago when we started this journey. I never thought I would get to the point where I am questioning some sacred cows in our spending (cable). How long have you been at this? Give yourself time but practice consistency. I’m routing for you. We are still all learning but are ready to support each other whenever needed.

    • Thank you both for your kindness and your supportive comments. I have commented here before, and I like to check in now and then to see if there is a discussion I can add to.

      Things didn’t get really bad until I had my son, who is now 9 years old. Going for a few months without income while on leave and then the expenses related to having a child – daycare, formula, diapers, clothes … I started charging more and more of it and really never opened the bills. I threw them away and just continued to make minimum payments. 🙁

      There were other things too, getting talked into buying a house that was more expensive than we could really afford (I trusted my ex-husband to make good decisions – HA!) and then I knew we were just too strapped for things to feel right. I make more than enough money to do whatever I need to do, but I was throwing more than $1000 a month at cards just to make minimum payments.

      I will add that for our entire marriage my ex-H and I kept all our finances separate except for a joint account to pay household bills. BIG MISTAKE. I also trusted him to do all the tax stuff and all I had to do was sign the forms. EPIC MISTAKE. Oh did those two things come back to haunt me later!

      Anyway, how I wish I had found Dave and my other favorite, David Bach, before things got so out of control. The way the interest built up killed me. I was also getting socked with huge fees every time I overdrew my checking account. 🙁 I knew it, I felt the pain, but as soon as I got paid I would just bring everything current and it was all okay.

      Since my divorce about 2 years ago, in which I lost the home I’d been paying into for more than 10 years and any money I ever put into it, plus a hefty chunk of my retirement funds to my ex-husband (don’t ask – SORE subject) I have since paid down about $15k of nearly $30k in credit card debt. I was doing very well for a while, had good momentum and good habits. Then I bought a new home after the divorce, and as Dave says, that’s when dumb, broke and stupid moved in. Seems like every time I turn around, there’s another large-ish expense.

      So right now I feel like I am treading water with regard to my debt. I’m making more than min payments but progress still feels so slow. I do try very hard to stay out of places where I tend to spend “dumb money” – buying things I don’t technically need. It goes in fits and starts. I have gotten better at recognizing patterns and I do know my triggers, and I can say with honesty that I do much better now at putting things back and walking out of a store, or deciding to wait and think it over.

      It’s funny – I do without the things that most people take as a necessity — I drive a 12-year-old beater car [which is paid off but it’s now got to go, no longer safe to drive 🙁 ], I haven’t had cable in over 2 years, I cook at home and almost never go out … arrgghhh.

    • First of all, I also regret the way that I managed (or didn’t manage) finances with my husband. In my case, I put my head in the sand and let him deal with everything – and although we had shared accounts, we had next to no communication and were constantly pulling in opposite directions. Your mistakes in managing (or not managing) finances with your ex are no worse. It just really sucks that he was completely unworthy of any trust.
      Secondly, it sounds like you are doing very well at being frugal. Allow yourself a pat on the back for that. Despite the fact that most of your income is spoken for, you’re paying down your debt. You’ll face a big expense soon in the form of a new-used car, but your eyes are wide open to it. Do your best to save and pay for it outright. Another beater would be a good plan.
      Third, it sounds like the purchase of your post-divorce home has really strapped you, and you feel frustrated with the slow rate of debt-repayment – especially since it is so difficult. To break the log jam and speed up your debt-repayment (another Ramsey metaphor), it would do wonders either to lessen your expenses or increase your income. For instance, would it be advantageous to sell your home? Or could you earn some income by taking in a boarder? When your son is with your ex, would it be possible to take on some part-time work? Think about it. See what ideas come to mind.
      Lastly, stop devoting any part of yourself to regrets about your ex. Horror stories about ex-spouses abound. You are in good company. Others have rebuilt their lives from ashes, and you can too. Let all that energy of remorse be diverted towards constructive efforts to lay a foundation for your future. One brick at a time. One decision at a time. With complete honesty and an acute awareness of each detail. I for one will be very eager to see your construction. I believe you are capable of building something great.

  • Without doing the test I think I’m a Type A, but not an A+++ like your DFF. I experience only type A angst if I am not within my goals (i.e. grocery budget or debt repayment plans). I may have had Type A pride at one point “I deserve” mentality, and I do have type B peace but not complacency.

    I just did the test and got a 222, so I pretty much judged myself correctly. Great post!

    • Thank you for your comment, Debt Debs. Having a little angst about straying from your budget is probably a good thing – as long as it falls short of beating yourself up. And it’s great that you’ve moved away from pride. It’s a huge obstacle to debt-reduction.

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