Birds, Brains and Personal Finance

by Ouida on July 17, 2010

I love encouraging things to grow.  My backyard garden is bigger and brighter this year than it was last year.  Each year it blooms and surprises me because it never looks the same from one year to the next.  I have been thinking about this post for over a year.  The idea for it came to me one day while I was watching the birds feeding outside my window.  Before I get into this post, though, let me tell you about my ants and aphids.  I hate them both.  A few years ago, I began spot spraying in my yard.  Aphids love fast growing plants.  They tend to congregate on new growth and literally suck the life out of that new growth, distorting the plant, injecting viruses and depending on the plant’s age and overall health, destroy a plant.  Ant’s help the aphids by transporting  them up the target plant and, together, they force the new growth to secrete the juices that both insects seem to love.  I see an aphid and I go into Rambo mode, get out the insecticide and scream “die, die, die” as I spray jets of poison onto the affected plant.  Looking for aphids is part of my daily routine.  Trouble is that spraying is a vicious cycle.  I spot spray because I know I have beneficial insects in my garden that I do not want to harm.  I have aphids, however, because they seem not to be doing their jobs.  There is a part of me that screams, “kill the lot of them, and start over,” then rationality takes over and I look for other ways to solve my pest problem.  When I spot spray, I will control the pests in one area of my yard for a month or so then the problem recurs.  Once you spray, you have to continue to spray and therein lies the problem.  Pesticide is cheap, though, and what I need to do to control the problem naturally is comparatively more expensive.

Turns out that birds and wasps love ants.  Lady bugs love aphids but will get swarmed by the ants if they are present on the same plant.  I have decided that every creature in my yard must have a job and do that job.  The birds are no exception.  In order to keep them around, I actually have to set multiple water stops and feeders around the yard. Funny thing is that when the feeders are full, the birds won’t eat the ants.  A couple of days ago, I watched a beautiful green oriole perch itself on the broad leaf of a sunflower plant.  Patiently it picked at the ants.  The feeders were empty.  I imagined that perching itself on a leaf while eating was hard for that bird.

When I put bird feed out, birds eat in a predictable pattern easiest to hardest.  First they eat the seed that fell on the ground when I filled the feeder, then they sit in the open feeder and feed, then they feed at the hanging feeders with perches on them.  To use these feeders the birds have to perch on a bar or small platform and pick their food.  Then and only then do the birds forage on the ground or perch on the plants for food.

What I realized is that when it comes to personal finance, we are like birds.  We do what is easiest first and we do the hard only when forced to.  So the easiest thing in the short term is not to have a financial plan at all.  The next step up is to start saving a portion of earnings each and every month.  The next step is to decide what to do with those savings by deciding the asset classes we want to invest in, analyze investments and make sound investments while simultaneously incurring, yet minimizing, the risk of loss.  Somewhere along the way we have to protect our income and assets through the proper use of disability and life insurance.

Not having a financial plan is like standing on the ground and eating the food that just happens to spill to the ground either when the feeder was filled or while the other birds feed from the feeder.  Setting up a savings plan is like hopping into the feeder.  It requires a bit more effort, but the long term rewards are significantly greater than just waiting around on the ground.  Analyzing and purchasing investments and protecting your income and assets is like foraging on the ground or perching on the plants and picking food.  It requires a great deal of effort and some risk, but the food is in abundance.  I have ants, worms and beetles galore in my yard but I also have predators.  One year I watched a bird and a bull snake tumble on the ground near a stand of trumpet honeysuckle.  The bird lost the good fight.

The next time you have trouble putting your financial plan into action, consider the next bird that you see and realize that your brain is so much bigger than his!

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Ruth T. Vincent July 18, 2010 at 10:36 am

Of course I’m your monther and in my opinion all your posts are great, but this one is the most creative yet! GO GIRL!


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