The Ostrich Effect

Sandy heads don’t make good decisions

Pop quiz!

  • Do you know how much money you have in your bank account?
  • Do you know how much you owe on your credit card today?
  • Have you ever been caught-out when your card was declined?
  • Do you always have enough cash in your bank account for your direct debits?

If your answer to any of these questions is “no”, you might be putting your head in the sand in an attempt to avoid information that upsets you. None of us like bad news, so we tend to block our ears if we feel it coming our way. However, without trying to sound like Captain Obvious – this method isn’t going to help you. Avoiding reality is a bad strategy when it comes to managing money.

The Ostrich Effect

This behaviour is sometimes referred to as “The Ostrich Effect”. Essentially, if you’re falling off track, you’re not super keen to hear about it. Behavioural economists explain it as our tendency to selectively avoid negative information, even when it’s to our own detriment.

It’s like when you’re dating someone new and your friends try and bring some of their questionable behaviour/red flags to your attention – you don’t want to hear it. Lalalalala. Our rational self knows the information is important, but our emotional self just wants to avoid the pain.

(Side note: there are times when it’s good to be an ostrich. Like at a family lunch, when Uncle Steve starts banging on about how young people would be able to buy houses easillllyyy if they weren’t such spoilt, lazy snowflakes. Permission to put your head in the sand and avoid that whole scenario.)

How can you tell if you’re an ostrich?

If you suspect you might be a bit of a proverbial ostrich with your money, you probably avoid looking at your bank balance and bills. You only act when you’re forced to, and by then your problems have probably compounded. Late fees, damage to your credit rating, overdrawn accounts. Stressssss.

When it comes to money, those rose-tinted glasses have to come off. To be better off in the future, it’s essential to know where you stand now. That way, you can see where changes can be made to make a positive difference. Knowing your financial situation can help you to take control.

The reformed ostrich

There are a few tricks to make your money difficult to ignore. These simple steps can really help you start on shaking off that sand:

  • Force yourself into a reality check: Set-up automatic alerts on your account so that your account balance and transactions are flashed in front of your eyes whether you like it or not. Transparency is the first step. Then you can start to figure out your patterns and what changes you need to make.
  • Create better habits: Set weekly reminders to check your finances, for example your account balance and upcoming bills. To increase your chance of success, set the  reminder at a time you’re less likely to dismiss and ignore it – for example, 7pm on a weeknight when you’re home from work, or Sunday nights if that’s when you get a bit of life admin done – whatever works for you. Perhaps add an alarm label that will keep you honest “Don’t dismiss me, it’s for your own good”.  By doing this regularly, you’ll start to form a healthy money habit and make it a normal part of your life.

Knowledge is power. Once you’ve really embraced these steps, you’re more likely to feel in control, because you know what’s going on and can take action. Start small, build momentum and reap the rewards. Then you can level-up to some clever tactics to create better savings habits.

But as old mate Captain Obvious once said, “if nothing changes, then nothing will change.” So if you’re an ostrich, do yourself a favour and consider doing things differently.