As a kid you probably grew up hearing Aesop’s Fables. These little stories all have a moral designed to teach kids (and adults) to live better lives and to be better people. Many of these stories deal indirectly with financial topics. As an adult it’s fun to go back and re-read some of these tales. Knowing what I know now, I see how spot on many of the author’s observations were. If you ever want some snippets of inspiration or instruction about personal finance, go back and re-visit some of these tales:
The Milkmaid and Her Pail
Patty the Milkmaid was going to market carrying her milk in a Pail on her head. As she went along she began calculating what she would do with the money she would get for the milk. “I’ll buy some fowls from Farmer Brown,” said she, “and they will lay eggs each morning, which I will sell to the parson’s wife. With the money that I get from the sale of these eggs I’ll buy myself a new dimity frock and a chip hat; and when I go to market, won’t all the young men come up and speak to me! Polly Shaw will be that jealous; but I don’t care. I shall just look at her and toss my head like this. As she spoke she tossed her head back, the Pail fell off it, and all the milk was spilt. So she had to go home and tell her mother what had occurred. “Ah, my child,” said the mother, “Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.”
The Lesson: It’s fine to dream about what you will do with money you don’t yet have, but don’t get too excited and don’t count on it. Whether the money is coming from a tax refund, an inheritance, a bonus or raise, or some other source, you don’t have it yet. Until the money is actually in your hands, don’t spend it or make any promises about what you’ll do with it. Only when you have the money can you feel free to turn your dreams into reality.
The Ant and the Grasshopper
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 recommend 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 and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.
The Lesson: An oldie, but a goodie. It’s fine to have fun today, but you have to prepare for the future. You can have some fun today and buy frivolous things, but you also must prepare for emergencies, layoffs, and illnesses, as well as your long term future when you stop earning an income. If you do nothing but play, you’ll regret it when you really need money one day.
The Cock and the Pearl
A cock was once strutting up and down the farmyard among the hens when suddenly he espied something shinning amid the straw. “Ho! ho!” quoth he, “that’s for me,” and soon rooted it out from beneath the straw. What did it turn out to be but a Pearl that by some chance had been lost in the yard? “You may be a treasure,” quoth Master Cock, “to men that prize you, but for me I would rather have a single barley-corn than a peck of pearls.”
The Lesson: Value is subjective. What one person finds valuable is useless to another. You may love new cars, another may find those to be a waste of money and instead value vacations. Value and desirability are different for everyone and you should know what it is you truly value. Otherwise, you’ll find value in everything and end up spending too much money to chase it all. Know what you want and can use and go after those. (And if something like a pearl comes along to you and you don’t want it, sell it and buy something that you do value.)
The Dog and The Shadow
It happened that a Dog had got a piece of meat and was carrying it home in his mouth to eat it in peace. Now on his way home he had to cross a plank lying across a running brook. As he crossed, he looked down and saw his own shadow reflected in the water beneath. Thinking it was another dog with another piece of meat, he made up his mind to have that also. So he made a snap at the shadow in the water, but as he opened his mouth the piece of meat fell out, dropped into the water and was never seen more.
The Lesson: Greed only brings trouble. When you to try to grab for too much, you often end up losing what you already had. Be content with what you have and what is reasonable and don’t be greedy.
The Hares and the Frogs
The Hares were so persecuted by the other beasts, they did not know where to go. As soon as they saw a single animal approach them, off they used to run. One day they saw a troop of wild Horses stampeding about, and in quite a panic all the Hares scuttled off to a lake hard by, determined to drown themselves rather than live in such a continual state of fear. But just as they got near the bank of the lake, a troop of Frogs, frightened in their turn by the approach of the Hares scuttled off, and jumped into the water. “Truly,” said one of the Hares, “things are not so bad as they seem.”
The Lesson: There is always someone worse off than yourself. While you don’t want to take joy in the misfortunes of others, it can be comforting in times of financial crisis to remind yourself that there are others out there who have it worse than you. Knowing this can give you the courage and strength to go on and fix your problems. Often just putting things in perspective makes them easier to deal with.
The Crow and the Pitcher
A Crow, half-dead with thirst, came upon a Pitcher which had once been full of water; but when the Crow put its beak into the mouth of the Pitcher he found that only very little water was left in it, and that he could not reach far enough down to get at it. He tried, and he tried, but at last had to give up in despair. Then a thought came to him, and he took a pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the Pitcher. At last, at last, he saw the water mount up near him, and after casting in a few more pebbles he was able to quench his thirst and save his life.
The Lesson: Whether it’s one pebble or one dollar at a time, big goals are often accomplished little by little. It may take a while, but you will accomplish your goal eventually, particularly if you are motivated by necessity.
The Goose With the Golden Eggs
One day a countryman going to the nest of his Goose found there an egg all yellow and glittering. When he took it up it was as heavy as lead and he was going to throw it away, because he thought a trick had been played upon him. But he took it home on second thoughts, and soon found to his delight that it was an egg of pure gold. Every morning the same thing occurred, and he soon became rich by selling his eggs. As he grew rich he grew greedy; and thinking to get at once all the gold the Goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find nothing.
The Lesson: When you get greedy, you can ruin a good thing. Like the farmer who killed his goose, a person who reaches for too much often finds that they lose everything. It’s better to accept your good fortune as it comes and to enjoy it rather than constantly reaching for more.
The Miser and His Gold
Once upon a time there was a Miser who used to hide his gold at the foot of a tree in his garden; but every week he used to go and dig it up and gloat over his gains. A robber, who had noticed this, went and dug up the gold and decamped with it. When the Miser next came to gloat over his treasures, he found nothing but the empty hole. He tore his hair, and raised such an outcry that all the neighbors came around him, and he told them how he used to come and visit his gold. “Did you ever take any of it out?” asked one of them. “Nay,” said he, “I only came to look at it.” “Then come again and look at the hole,” said a neighbor; “it will do you just as much good.”
The Lesson: If you never intend to use your money, what good is it? While you want to save money for the future, you don’t want to become such a miser that you never spend or give away any of your money. If you never use the money, what’s the point of working to hard to get it? There is a fine line to walk between saving, spending, giving, and hoarding money. Try not to end up on the hoarding side.
The Fox Without a Tail
It happened that a Fox caught its tail in a trap, and in struggling to release himself lost all of it but the stump. At first he was ashamed to show himself among his fellow foxes. But at last he determined to put a bolder face upon his misfortune, and summoned all the foxes to a general meeting to consider a proposal which he had to place before them. When they had assembled together the Fox proposed that they should all do away with their tails. He pointed out how inconvenient a tail was when they were pursued by their enemies, the dogs; how much it was in the way when they desired to sit down and hold a friendly conversation with one another. He failed to see any advantage in carrying about such a useless encumbrance. “That is all very well,” said one of the older foxes; “but I do not think you would have recommended us to dispense with our chief ornament if you had not happened to lose it yourself.”
The Lesson: Do not trust advice given by someone who has a stake in the outcome. Whenever you’re evaluating financial advice, consider whether or not your advisor has a stake in the outcome. If the person will benefit from the plan, ask yourself whether this is a plan you want to go along with, or whether the person, like the fox, is trying to get you to do something that will benefit him more than you.
These are just a few of Aesop’s fables. There are many more and all of them can be found on the Internet. If you want a version for your e-reader that you can keep with you and refer to often or read to your own kids, you can find it for free through Project Gutenberg.
(Photo courtesy of libertygrace0)
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