What To Do When Your Inner Chimp Wants To Spend



I have read some brilliant books on the subject of mindset and the struggle we have between our old-brain and our new brain. The old brain is the “chimp” ready to cause havoc and destruction to our finances. The new brain is the human, and trying desperately to save for a new house or pay off debt!!

Now, in order to conquer the “chimp” within you, you need to be aware of what sets it off. This comes down to your personality and what your values are. Something that is a trigger for me may not be an issue for you.

This post is going to go through a few specific situations where you might be triggered, and what you can do about it. It’s not an exhaustive list, so you may want to sit with a piece of paper and write down when you’re triggered additionally.

See what you resonate with.

You’re Feeling Moody 

There’s a reason why the phrase “retail therapy” exists!! If feeling bad is a trigger for you, then you’ll know the rush and excitement you feel when you make a purchase. In fact in studies, researchers suggest that making purchases helps shoppers to “restore a mood-improving sense of self-control”.

Its also linked to our hormones (which is linked to the chimp way of responding). Spending money actually releases happy-chemicals, or endorphins: the same stuff that gives you a buzz after eating chocolate or exercising. The only problem with this tactic, is that it doesn’t last long. After a while, the guilt and shame creep back in, and you start to feel worse. You might then be very frugal for a while, but the old cycle will repeat itself – unless you spot it!

Spot the trigger: If this resonates with you, then this is what I suggest:

  • Why are you feeling bad? Is there something specific like work, family or another situation. Can you change it or adapt it to help yourself? Sit down with a piece of paper and try and work this out. Try to work out a pattern and recognise when you’re going into your old habit so you can stop it in its tracks.
  • Next, create a fund that you can call whatever you like – “feeling bad fund”, “end of the world fund”, “when I’m feeling shit fund”. Whatever, you decide. Stick this money in a separate account. Then, when you’re feeling like crap, feel free to rummage this account (but only this account) and blow the money on whatever you want.
  • Never take credit cards out with you when you’re feeling like this – in fact, if this is a weakness, keep ALL your cards at home and only have the spending one with you.
  • Alternatively, you could take to eating chocolate or exercise for your endorphin fix instead.

There’s a Sale On!

A lot of people get really excited when sales happen – especially with high-end goods. We’ve all seen the crazy videos of people fighting over TVs and handbags. Finding stuff on sale speaks to our inner chimp because it’s directly linked to competition – and chimps LOVE competing. Knowing that other people paid full price for something you can pay a lot less for really gets us going!

Spot the trigger: If you see this in yourself, what can you do?

  • Put a post-it in your purse that you see every time you open it. On the post-it, write things like: “do I need it”, “do I need the money for something else”, “do I have anything like this at home” etc. Yes, those shoes may now be £25 rather than £75, but you’re still spending £25 that you wouldn’t have planned to otherwise.
  • Pretend those shoes cost full price. Would you still want them as badly as you do now? If the answer is no, put them back.
  • Unsubscribe from all brands you know you have a weakness for when it comes to shopping. Mine was ASOS, Topshop and Accessorize. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Have a small fund ready for times like this. It could be your fun fund, or the type of fund described in point one. Having money set aside specifically for times like this means that you can have fun without the guilt and destruction of your finances.

Someone you love wants to borrow money

This is a hard one to deal with, especially for women. How can someone resist handing over money to their loved one so they can get out of debt (again), or start a business idea (again). The problem is, if you’re not financially secure, this can really screw up your plans. Providing money to your children or family can seem like a good thing to do at the time, and it ultimately speaks to our inner need to “belong” to the tribe. However, is it really helping? Are you in fact contributing to learned-helplessness? You’re taking away from them the ability to problem-solve and establish their own good money habits just like you.

Spot the trigger:

  • If you have no debt, and a “charity/giving fund” in your budget, then you can use this to help, but no more. If you have debt, you shouldn’t have a giving fund. Remember to put your own oxygen mask on first!
  • If you don’t have the financial ability to help (be honest with the person asking), how else can you help? Can you help physically – such as moving house, decorating or fixing up the garden? Could you supply the person with a useful book or course in money management? There’s a saying- you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You do not need to be responsible for the choices they make, but you can offer “pointers”. Model good behaviour for them, and it make rub off!
  • You do not need to feel guilty in all this. In order to be able to help others, you must be financially secure yourself, otherwise you’ll put you both at risk.
  • If you have been helping for a while, and the person is used to it, you might want to wean them off gradually. Reduce the amount you give over 3-6 months. This will force the other person to make plans to compensate for the change.

You’re Bored

I don’t know about you, but boredom seldom happens to me. I’m far too busy! However, I know that on the rare occasions I have been bored, the chocolate or biscuits tend to come out! The same happens with SPENDING. Boredom can definitely be bad for your budget if you don’t watch out. How many times have you been scrolling through Pinterest or Facebook and an advert catches your eye? Before you know it you’ve bought clothes, gadgets and artwork! Even worse, you’ve turned on amazon one-click, and suddenly your cart is full!

Spot the trigger: 

  • The obvious thing is – don’t get bored! Notice when you are more likely to shop. Is it when you watch TV? Maybe its at work? Start to make note of these occasions, and keep your phone away. Even better, unlink your credit/debt cards from paypal/amazon and turn off one-click!
  • Unsubscribe from everything that might tempt you.
  • Its cliched, but get yourself a hobby – it could be crafting, playing sport or going to the gym. Maybe turn your hand to writing?! There are so many things you could do rather than watch TV/Netflix. Just an idea….

You’re With Your Friends

This is a HARD one for me. When I lived in London, I went out 3 times a week at least. At weekends I’d easily drop over £100 on a night out. I just felt like I couldn’t say no to anything. I wanted to do it all!! Feeling like you belong is very much an old-brain goal, so we’ll do anything to avoid being rejected.  According to Tim Ferriss, we’re the average of the five people we most associate with. If they spend spend spend, then so will you. If your friends are in debt, then you’re likely to be too.

Spot the trigger:

  •  Decide before you go out what your budget is, and stick to it as best as you can. Leave the credit card at home, and take out only cash.
  • Be honest with your friends. If they are TRUE friends, they will help you. Tell them beforehand if you’re not going be buying rounds or splitting the bill evenly. Telling them that you’re saving to buy a house, get out of debt or that you just need to stick to a budget could be inspiring to them too, and you may help them change their own habits around spending!
  • Set up a savings fund for holidays and weekends away. If your friends are the type to plan for things last minute, you’ll always have the cash sitting there to pay for a random trip away, stress free from debt!

What Else Can I Do?

For more reading on this subject, and a few other triggers that might come up for you. Check out the original article over at dailyworth.com.

Denise Duffield-Thomas is one of my own money-mentors, and she specialises in helping us to uncover our own money-blocks.

She has some helpful videos here:

You could try reading about your old-brain and new-brain.

I recommend the book “The Chimp Paradox” by Steve Peters*.






If you feel that things are getting really bad, and that you have an addiction or a problem that you’re struggling with alone. It might be worth looking into getting a therapist. There is no shame in this, and something I actively encourage.

I hope that was a useful read for you – start looking out for those triggers and shut them down!!

Until next time!




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