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?
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?