Why Gorillas don’t have 401K plans

by Sandy L on October 25, 2010

Today is the first post of a monkey carnival. The goal was to have several bloggers all tie a personal finance lesson to one of our favorite primates. I’m eager to read everyone’s stories.

When I first concocted this topic, I really had no idea what I’d be writing about. Then, when I started thinking about it, there were so many metaphor’s I started having a hard time just picking one.  Do I pick the monkey banana trap and compare that to mindless consumerism?  Let go of that banana already!

Gorilla Families

Instead I thought I’d write about Gorilla family units and what happens to old gorillas.  I had this cutesy impression that gorillas take care of each other til the day they die and they don’t really need a retirement plan. For female gorillas, that seems to be the case. They don’t really lose rank with age. The male silverbacks however don’t have it as good. They are constantly fighting to maintain they’re alpha status and when they get too old to win the fight anymore, they usually either fight to the death or leave the pack to a solitary existence for the rest of they’re lives. Oh and just to salt the wound a bit, the new dominant male goes and kills all his babies to make room for his own family. Nice.

So to answer my own question, female gorillas don’t need a 401K plan because they stay with a family unit they’re whole lives. Males usually don’t live long enough to really need a retirement plan.  This however, made me think of an experience I had in Africa and the how one’s environment can really control your sense of saving.

Goat Diversion

My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Africa and we met up with an industrious local who offered to give us a tour of one of the nearby villages. He took us around to see people’s dung huts and told us about how the people there buy and sell goods.  It was market day and there was a kid leading a pack of cute little goats to market.  I asked our guide how much a goat cost and he said $20. I wanted one really really bad, just so I could say I was a goat herder for a day. I was going to give the goat to one of the villagers later.   My husband vetoed my idea. He said it was demeaning. He also thought it would screw up the villagers whole economic system if tourists started running around giving people goats.  Whatever.  How often does one have a chance to be a goat herder?  Not very often and I’m pretty sure if it were me on the receiving end, I wouldn’t be turning away any free goats. I’m still bitter over that. If we ever go back, I’m buying a goat dammit.  But I digress, back to the point of my story.

Saving vs Living

The most interesting part of the tour was when the man said that in Africa there is a different perception of saving. He theorized that because of the abundance of natural resources and warm climate, most people there do not have a “hoarding” mentality like people that come from colder climates.  When it’s time for dinner, they go outside, pick they’re dinner and cook it. They don’t have to stockpile for the long winter, so the thought of personal savings doesn’t even occur to many villagers.  I thought about what a great way this is live..you work just enough to be fed and clothed and spend the rest of your time with family and relaxing.  They know what’s important in life.  (It also made me think of you average middle class American family chugging along and spending everything they make with the assumption that the future will be just as bright as the present.)

But wait, the plot thickens. This village is at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro who’s glacier runoff provides water to the village. Scientists predict that in a decade or so, it will be gone.  So maybe a little planning for the future may be in order after all.

The Need To Adapt

So, as I write this, I think about the perfect balance between saving and living.  Many of us either come from an environment where we haven’t wanted for anything in life or the complete opposite.   Our environment growing up certainly has molded our perception of what’s enough.  Maybe you’re that gorilla and live day to day not thinking about the future because food and shelter have always been abundant. Maybe you’re the squirrel who’s running around like the nut you’re storing and you forget to stop to live a little once in a while.  (I air towards squirrel by the way.)

What’s the solution? Sometimes it’s hard to do it all.  If you’re a squirreler, don’t forget to schedule in some fun and down time. If you’re alpha male gorilla and you’re too busy hanging with the troupe to save, try to do something automatic and easy.  Save a few bucks a week in an account that’s hard to access. (Like a Roth or savings bond).  You most likely won’t be the alpha male forever so you best think about what would happen if you lose your job once you hit your 50s.  Could you live on less?

So that’s my monkey tale for today. I will post the others here as well. If you have a monkey story as well, shoot me a note.

Here are more monkey tales:

Get that Debt Monkey off Your Back – by Money Reasons

Monkeys and Retirement Planning– by Budgeting in for the Fun Stuff

Lessons Learned from Primates – by Everyday Tips and Thoughts

Interning with the Gibbons – by Little House in the Valley

Three Lessons Learned from Observing Monkeys – by Invest it Wisely

Monkey Cards – by Molly on Money

How To Manage your Finances like a Monkey – By KNS Financial

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Everyday Tips October 25, 2010 at 9:09 AM

I had no idea that gorilla life was so scary. Poor little babies!

It is interesting how different environments can give a completely different perspective. If you live a simple life and all you need surrounds you, I can see where saving might not be a priority. You already have everything you need! May be a little short-sighted, but it is understandable. So much of our beliefs are set based on our culture.

I too would have wanted a goat!!! Go back and get one.


Little House October 25, 2010 at 9:47 AM

I’ve added my ape-related story as well! Sorry, I forgot to send you the link!


Squirrelers October 25, 2010 at 12:23 PM

Great group effort from all of you who wrote monkey tales! I agree – don’t forget to schedule in some fun and downtime:)

That’s not cool what those gorillas do the older males! I too had this idea that these were somewhat family-oriented creatures….wow, was I wrong. It’s a jungle out there. As if I wasn’t already glad to be human, this adds one more reason.


Invest It Wisely October 25, 2010 at 1:23 PM

Mother nature can be rough! The idea of saving for the future is one of the roots of civilization, and the ability to conceptualize and plan for the future is also something that sets humans apart from the other primates and other animals.


Sandy L October 25, 2010 at 5:14 PM

Thanks to all the folks out there who participated in the writing experiment. I love how the diversity of backgrounds has created so many interesting spins on monkeys and finances. I loved every single tale that was told today.

Anyone want to do it again?

Kevin – I’m having a hard time getting to your blog right now to comment. It keeps timing out.

Kris – thank you about the goat. My husband is the voice of reason, but sometimes it’s fun to just do something bizarre. Our culture is huge. I’m sure there are many examples we can think of that drives our savings behavior. Might be worth exploring further.

Squirrel – Yeah, not fun. I don’t know what’s worse, being the baby or the mom who gets her baby killed. Apparently, they do it so that the mothers stop nursing and are receptive to procreate again. What a way to pick up chics.


Sandy L October 25, 2010 at 7:03 PM

For those of you who posted earlier, I added a few more monkey articles to my post. We had a total of 8 stories, each unique and each very interesting in it’s own way.

Good Times.


Suba @ Wealth Informatics October 25, 2010 at 7:04 PM

I was wondering why I am seeing Monkeys all over the place today, so it is you 😉 don’t know how I missed this carnival…

I always thought gorillas take care of each other too, no idea they do this to the older males… and their kids. Poor babies…


Khaleef @ KNS Financial October 25, 2010 at 7:18 PM

I have to admit, I’m kinda with your husband on the goat issue.

Thanks for putting this together! It was really fun.


Money Reasons October 25, 2010 at 7:45 PM

Shoot! My comment from the library didn’t say, but here’s what I said:

What an excellent experience it was to go to Africa, thanks for sharing that piece with us!!!

It’s really sad about the older male gorillas! I new that they were pretty competative, but did realize that sometimes it resulted in death.

Great message about accomplishing a balance while saving for future lean times 🙂


Sandy L October 26, 2010 at 4:25 AM

Suba – I think all the participants and some of the readers enjoyed the non-traditional PF carnival, so I think we’ll do another one first week of December (right after thanksgiving) if that works for people.

Khaleef – I’m glad you had fun. I did too. I think this might be a good way to keep the PF blog world fresh. Many articles have been done so many times, you just get tired of reading them, so putting a crazy spin on things makes them new and fresh again and challenges us to be better writers.

MR – Africa for Honeymoon was our splurge. We only spent about $3 on our wedding but then spent almost $10K on our honeymoon. I don’t regret that decision. Africa is such an amazing place. I would like to go back once the kids are older.


Crystal October 27, 2010 at 2:27 PM

I loved your goat story…my hubby would have vetoed that too. If we ever go to Africa together, I’d buy a goat too – we’d have a little herd, lol.

Yep, putting something away for the future is just a good idea. Those villagers would have thought so too if they’d ever been in a freak freeze or something…


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