Remember the story Aesop wrote about the grasshopper and the ant?
In a field one summer’s day a grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An ant passed by bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.
“Why not come and chat with me,” said the grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”
“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the ant, “and I recommend that you to do the same.”
“Why bother about winter?” said the grasshopper; “We have got plenty of food at present.” But the ant went on its way and continued its toil.
When the winter came the grasshopper had no food. While it was dying of hunger it watched the ant distributing every day corn and grain from the stores it had collected in the summer. Then the grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for days of need.
So, are you a grasshopper or an ant?
Grasshoppers don’t save; ants do. Ants know that the bounty of summer is followed by the deprivation of winter, and if you don’t have something stashed away for those cold, barren days, you’re going to have a sore tummy. If you have an emergency fund, if you’re stashing a little sumthin’ sumthin’ away for retirement, you’re an ant. Grasshopper’s gonna cry!
Grasshoppers don’t plan; ants do. Grasshoppers are of the opinion that there’s nothing much to worry about, bad things don’t happen to good people, all will be well, and you have to live for today. Ants know that crap happens to everyone, you better make sure your ass is covered just in case, and your larvae aren’t going to get to university if you don’t help them by setting up an education savings plan the minute they hatch.
Grasshoppers get drunk and pass out; ants sleep well. Ultimately, when the caca hits the fan and they have no resources, grasshoppers over-indulge in self-loathing and recriminations and hide in the bottom of a bottle, in a doobie, or some other form of distraction. If I had a dollar for every time some grasshopper said to me, “How was I supposed to know this was going to happen?” You can’t predict what life holds so you’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of business just in case. Ants, who have planned like pessimists, know they’ve taken every precaution and sleep like babies.
Grasshoppers love their toys; ants love their freedom of choice. Yes, a big-screen TV is nice. Getting another vehicle before the new-car smell has worn off sounds like fun. And new furniture is a treat. But stuff doesn’t replace options when it comes to dealing with changes in the economic weather. If the ant loses his job in an economic downturn, having a stash of corn at the ready means he won’t have to panic. In the meantime, that grasshopper will be wondering how much he can get for his year-old snowmobile.
Grasshoppers compare themselves to others; ants measure how close they are to reaching their goals. It’s a sad reality that plenty of people are still playing the keeping up game. I’ve worked with grasshoppers that have turned their snobby noses up at someone else’s shoes or fashion style. Ants know that it doesn’t matter if you only have six shoes in your closet, feeling great about what you’re accomplishing – saving up a downpayment, going back to school, having enough money to see you through a maternity leave — matters more.
Grasshoppers want it all right now; ants want only what they can afford. All those dopes doing the low-downpayment, long-amortization thing so they can get into an bigger house than their cousin, brother, friend, business partner, next-door neighbour, whomever, are grasshoppers. And as for the peeps who think it’s smart to use their lines of credit for their downpayments, well, that’s just impossibly dumb. Ants know that they should only buy as much hill as they need, and the goal should be to pay off the mortgage by the time they plan to stop working, not simply pay it down so you can borrow against the equity yet again.
Whether you’re a grasshopper or an ant is a choice. What will you choose today?