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The Monkey Ladder Experiment: Challenging Money Norms

Have you heard of the famous Monkey Ladder Experiment?

The Monkey Ladder Experiment is an amazing story I read which helps people question the social norms they are following.

I hope you share the story below with your kids and open up a conversation with them about some of the crazy 'money norms' many of us follow. Talking to your kids about them means they are more likely to grow up challenging them and becoming financially healthy and wealthy.

Before I share these crazy 'money norms' people follow, let me first share The Monkey Ladder Experiment story with you.

(Note: There is no evidence that this experiment actually happened but it is a powerful fable - source: The Truth of The Monkey Ladder Experiment).

The Monkey Ladder Experiment

Experimenters put 5 monkeys in a cage. In the middle of the cage was a ladder with bananas placed at the top. Every time a monkey tried to climb the ladder, the experimenter gave all of the monkeys an icy shower. After a few cold showers, each time a monkey started to climb the ladder, the other monkeys pulled them off and gave them a beating so they could all avoid the icy shower (I didn't mention beatings when telling my daughters the story, I just said 'pulled them down'). Soon, no monkey dared attempt to go up the ladder.

In a twist, the experiments substituted one of the monkeys for a new one. As you'd expect the new monkey tried to climb the ladder to reach the bananas. After being subjected to a few beatings, the new monkey caught on to the group's unwritten rule and avoided the ladder. He didn't understand why the other monkeys stopped him from reaching the bananas since he'd never been sprayed with ice water, but he soon figured out that the others wouldn't allow it.

The Monkey Ladder Experiment -  5 monkeys, a ladder and bananas

One at a time, they swapped out the monkeys in the cage with new ones until there were no more of the original gang left. Whenever a new monkey tried to climb the ladder, the whole gang would yank them down, even those who'd never felt the icy water spray.

When the experiment finished, all five monkeys in the cage had picked up the same rule: "Don't climb for the bananas," even though none of them understood why. If we could have asked them why they stopped their friends from climbing the ladder, they'd likely say, "I don't know, that's just how things have always been."

Using the Money Ladder Experiment to teach kids about money

The Monkey Ladder Experiment is a useful analogy for understanding how human society works. We often follow social norms without even thinking about why. We may do things because we see other people doing them, or because we're afraid of being punished if we don't.

Essentially, if you don't proactively talk to your kids about these 'money norms' then they are most likely to follow them when they are older (which is probably not what you want).

Below are just some examples of money norms which I hope you will help your kids to challenge as they grow up.

"Don't talk about money"

This one pains me. In a world where there are so many people struggling with money problems, we need to challenge the status quo that money is a taboo subject.

We need kids to realise that 'money is a taboo topic' might be something that many adults today believe but it doesn't mean it is sensible or right. We need kids growing up talking about money so they can learn and not suffer in silence. We need to change the social norm and soon!

"2 Months Salary for an engagement ring"

I mentioned in my blog, "Why are diamonds so expensive?", that diamond companies pulled off one of the biggest marketing successes when they linked diamonds to love. It is now a social norm to spend a lot of money on a diamond engagement ring to show our partner how much we love them. Are there other ways to show our love?

Clever advertising from diamond companies to link diamonds and love

"Owning expensive things means you are rich"

This is a classic one. We are conditioned from a young age to admire those who have expensive cars, high-end fashion and big houses. If you don't have these things then you aren't successful or rich.

We need kids to challenge this 'norm' and consider the benefits of looking after their money so they become wealthy. For more on this important topic, please check out my blog: Rich Kids vs Wealthy Kids

"Only retire when you are old"

In 2017, I said to my wife, that we should take some time off full-time corporate work and spend more time with our kids whilst they were young.

Her reaction was initially sceptical of the idea. Whilst she liked the thought of doing something different, she felt there were some risks I hadn't thought of. She often asked, "If this is a good idea, why aren't other people doing it?". Luckily she agreed and it was a life-changing experience, but it was going against social norms.

We have all grown up being told that you go to school, get a job and then retire when you are old. Not many people challenge that notion. Why not retire 3 years later and have 3 years off when you are younger and healthier? I'm not saying that everyone should (or could) do that but most people never even consider it an option.

To read more on this topic, please check out my blog 'Teaching kids about mini-retirements'.

illustration of how mini-retirements work

"Investing is only for those who have money and are good with numbers!"

We need to move away from a world where using debt (credit cards, loans) is the norm and investing isn't. Investing isn't as complex as many adults today believe it is. We need to help our kids see that investing is for everyone, not just a select group. This will help the next generation focus on growing their money. To help your kids learn about investing, you can read our blog: How to Teach Kids about the Stock Market or grab them a copy of Grandpa's Fortune Fables.

There are many more examples:

These are just an example of 'money norms' which I believe we should be challenging to help the next generation. Others include:

I would love to hear of other 'money norms' you believe we should be challenging. Please add to the comments below.

Before you finish reading this blog, I have a favour to ask...

Does your company have a Parents Network? We've had the privilege of hosting workshops on 'How To Teach Your Kids About Money' for companies like Amazon, HSBC, Nomura, Aon, and more. If your organization has a parent network, we'd be delighted if you could spread the word about this workshop.

As a token of our appreciation, we're offering a £100 ($120) referral bonus to you if your company enrols in the program.

For more information and a brochure to share with your company, please click here


Are your kids going to grow up following the above 'money norms'? If you don't proactively discuss these topics with them, then unfortunately they probably will.

Use the Monkey Ladder Experiment story to help your kids question why people do certain things with their money and challenge whether it makes sense or people are just doing it 'as that's just what people do!'.

We should all be aspiring to help our kids grow up to be conscientious spenders and savers. This will increase the chance that they will follow the Three Rules of Money (Wealth) and be financially healthy and wealthy.

I hope you enjoyed this blog. Don't forget to subscribe and share to help more families teach their kids about money.

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Thanks for reading!!


P.S., Help your kids start talking about money by ordering them a copy of Grandpa's Fortune Fables (either separately or as part of our Special Bundle Offer). I'm sure they will be talking to you about many different money topics afterwards.

Download the first 2 chapters for free when you subscribe to the blog (this in addition to the free Money Tracker For Kids)

book to help 7 year old's learn about money


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