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Money habits

How to avoid overspending: tame your inner ape

29 August 2019

We all love to treat ourselves (especially when sale time rolls around!). We may even be tempted to spend a little more than we should, an urge which can be pretty hard to resist. So hard in fact, giving into temptation seems part of the human condition. According to Suncorp Behavioural Psychologist Phil Slade—it is! Our early ancestors lived and hunted in tight-knit communities where conformity was key to survival. We’ve come a long way since then, but a piece of our distant relatives remains. Phil Slade calls this ‘’the ape that sits on our back’’. Our apes are simple beings—hungry for instant gratification and eager to bow to social norms, even if that means going a few bucks over budget sometimes. 

And you’re not the only one with spending regret.

Galaxy Research statistics show that more than 70% of Australians admitted to overspending in 2016. This isn’t just your issue, it’s a universal one. To avoid spending regret, we should tame those apes and differentiate their desires from our own. Here are a few simple ways to do so.


Conduct a ‘life audit’ 

Giving false financial goals the flick may benefit your overall financial health. Review your savings goals and ask yourself why each one is there. Are these goals for you, or the ape? Hint: if the savings goal is rooted in extrinsic factors, it isn’t truly yours. That fancy car or high-end watch might seem like it’ll boost your social status, but do you really need it?

Learn to differentiate authentic values from ape values. Remember, your ape is ruled by peer pressure, in-group expectations, and the larger demands of society. As Phil Slade says, ‘’the desire to be successful in a group drives spending behaviour.’’ We no longer worry about who we’ll sit with in the high school canteen, but we do worry about going to pricey lunches with our wealthy friends.

Taming our ape starts with a simple question: ‘’am I reacting or responding?’’ Phil Slade advises us to use this tool before committing to a financial goal. Ask yourself if you’re reacting emotionally or rationally.

  • Are you committing to an expensive mortgage because you want to appear accomplished in your circle of friends?
  • Are you anxious about fitting an idea of success?

When faced with a purchase decision, your ape reacts impulsively to external pressures. It sees a shiny new car and craves it for the social approval it’ll bring. The rational part of the mind responds—it looks at the same car and weighs the pros and cons of the decision.

The key, Phil says, is not to ‘’demonise your ape’’ but to ‘’understand it.’’ Changing your mindset is going to be tough, and it’s normal for your ape to have a win now and then. Straying from spending norms can be terrifying, especially when the threat of rejection looms. This fear is so intense that, according to Phil, MRI scans show strong similarities between ostracism and physical pain. The road to ape mastery is long and (quite literally) painful, but once you’re on it, you’re closer to crafting an authentic self-directed life. The first step is to accept that you’ll always have an ape buddy, but you can keep it under control (most of the time).

Sort your finances into sub-accounts

Once you’ve identified your true goals, it’s time to give them a home. Suncorp’s Everyday Options Account can help organise the financial planning process—allowing you to create up to 9 sub-accounts for each savings target! Label these accounts in the Suncorp app to remind yourself what you’re saving for.

You can also opt for flexiRates a feature that lets you earn higher interest rates by locking away a portion of your savings for periods up to 12 months. This helps you practise restraint—you can think rationally when you don’t have the immediate funds to splurge. Phil says this stops your ape in its tracks (think of it this way: you’re less likely to overeat if you don’t have snacks in the fridge). Open an Everyday Options Account and enjoy no monthly account keeping fee.


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FlexiRates only available on eligible products. An interest adjustment will apply if we allow you to release your flexiRate early.

Banking products are issued by Suncorp-Metway Ltd ABN 66 010 831 722 (“Suncorp Bank”). Eligibility criteria, conditions and fees apply and are available on request. Please read the relevant Product Information Document and Terms & Conditions before making any decision about this product. Contact us for a copy. This advice does not take into account your particular objectives, financial situations or needs, so you should consider whether it is appropriate for you before acting on it.

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