Talking About Money Book Club:  The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

Talking About Money Book Club: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

The Four Tendencies can alert you to how you respond to outer and inner expectations and can help you design a more effective way to save money.


I have been using Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies in my money management classes since I read about them in her earlier book Better Than Before.  This paradigm struck a chord with me because after years of talking to my students about saving money I realized that there was no one-size-fits-all method for getting people to save in their emergency fund. 

The Four Tendencies reveals that there are four dominant ways that people interact with the world, and these tendencies influence how people develop habit, such as saving money.  You can take the Quiz yourself here.

Let’s dive into the Four Tendencies and see how they intersect with your money personality:


Upholders respond to both outer and inner expectations.  According to the data gleaned from Gretchen’s quiz Upholders represent about 20% of the population.  The critical question that they ask of themselves is “What’s on my to-do list for today?”  Upholders love the satisfaction of getting things done!  They value self-command and performance upon achieving goals. 

I once had an Upholder student declare, “You mean that once I make the decision and set up an auto-transfer from my checking to my savings account that I never have to make the active choice to save money ever again?  If that’s so then I will set up the auto-transfer tomorrow!”  He did and saw his savings account balance climb.


Questioners respond to inner expectations primarily.  They represent about 25% of the population.  Questioners’ critical question for themselves is “What needs to get done today and why?”  They value justification and purpose and ask a lot of questions! 

I once had a student in my money management class ask, “Why are we even completing this quiz?”  Yes, she was a Questioner!  I myself am a Questioner and I know that I came to the practice of saving money after reading a number of different experts in the personal finance field and putting their research into practice in my own life.


Obligers respond to outer expectations primarily.  By far the most common tendency, they represent about 40% of the population. Obligers’ critical question is “What must I do today and for whom?”  They value teamwork and duty and tend to make commitments to others more readily than they make commitments to themselves. 

One student in my money management was a natural born Obliger, consistently putting the financial needs of others before her own.  What prompted her towards success was that she knew that I was going to ask her every month if she had made a deposit into her savings account.  She wanted to be able to say yes so she made those deposits!


Rebels respond to neither outer nor inner expectations and represent about 15% of the population, making this the least frequent tendency.  Their critical question is “What do I feel like doing today?”  Rebels want the freedom to do something their own way and highly value their self-identity.   

I had a student once who I suspected was a Rebel though he never took the quiz.  He was very independent-minded and had a history of moving frequently from job to job, making his finances pretty unstable.  He also was a single dad to a great kid and took his identity of being a good father very seriously.  It was this identity that inspired him to complete his savings goal and provide a stable home for his child.

What about you?  Do you identify with one of the Four Tendencies described above?  How does knowing about your Tendency influence how you save money?

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