Ants vs. Grasshoppers

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What, you may ask, does Ants vs. Grasshoppers have to do with retirement?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Stay tuned as we study a metaphor that applies to all of us as we deal with the realities of preparing for retirement.  Are you an ant, or are you a grasshopper?  What’s the difference, and what implication does it have for our retirements?

What does Ants vs. Grasshoppers have to do with retirement? A lot, as it turns out. Today, we dig into a fascinating metaphor. Click To Tweet

Ants vs. Grasshoppers

The Aesop Fable titled The Ant and the Grasshopper is summarized as follows by Wikipedia:

“The fable describes how a hungry grasshopper begs for food from an ant when winter comes and is refused. The situation sums up moral lessons about the virtues of hard work and planning for the future.”

Aesop wrote the ants vs. grasshoppers story in Ancient Greece around 600 B.C.  While initially intended to be a metaphor praising hard work and planning, many commentators in later centuries have debated what lessons the story holds regarding charity and compassion versus selfishness.

Should the ant have refused to help grasshopper, or should she have been generous and shared her hard-won “savings” to help the grasshopper survive the harsh winter?  Deep subject, this.

In spite of my liberal arts education, I wasn’t aware of this particular Aesop Fable until a savvy reader, “Elkay” used the metaphor in a comment on my recent post “Are We Facing A Retirement Crisis”.  Since reading her comments, which I’ll summarize below, I’ve been thinking a lot about the story and it’s application to all of us today.


I Suspect You Are An Ant  

Since you’re reading a blog on personal finance, I’m going to assume you’re most likely an “Ant”.  You’ve been busy during the summer, responsibly working to store up food for the winter.  Meanwhile, the grasshopper (actually a cicada in the original fable) enjoyed carefree singing during the beautiful days and worried not about the future.

Your “winter” (retirement) is now approaching, and you’re pleased to have your stash of food stored in your underground burrow.  You’re analyzing your spreadsheets, and you think you’ve stored up enough to make it through the winter.  You’re debating when you can stop gathering food and “retire” to your comfortable burrow for the winter. 

Life is good.


I Suspect You Know Some Grasshoppers

As you’re crunching your numbers, you get a phone call from your family member, The Grasshopper.  He’s been enjoying his life, singing his song, and is surprised when you announce that you’re planning on retiring. After the call, he looks at his food store (bank account) and suddenly realizes he’s got a problem.   The weather’s turning colder, and his store is empty. 

Life is bad.

Should you help him?

Thinking more broadly, as I did in the Retirement Crisis post, and we quickly realize there are many, many grasshoppers in our woods.  Even if it’s not a direct family member, it’s possible that future government policy will address the issue of the Grasshoppers, perhaps to the detriment of the Ants.

Will the government “borrow” food from the ants to save the grasshoppers?

Indeed, the ants. vs. grasshoppers metaphor is very relevant as we’re thinking about our retirements and the reality that many people in our society today will never be able to retire.


Elkay’s Dilemma

Credit to this metaphor and it’s application goes to Elkay and her comment on the Retirement Crisis post.  Hers was one of 94 comments on that post (wow, what an exchange, it’s worth reading in its entirety here). I’ve pasted her original comment below, summarized as follows:

  • Elkay is an ant.  She’s sacrificed and, at age 59, is on course for a great retirement.
  • Elkay’s 3 siblings are grasshoppers.  They “seem to be in denial” about their situation.
  • She’s worried about what to do when the grasshoppers come begging for food.


The Ants vs. Grasshoppers Dilemma

I appreciate Elkay sharing her comment (and giving me permission to use it for today’s post), and suspect the ants vs. grasshopper metaphor applies to most of us.  Even if we don’t have “grasshoppers” in our family, we definitely have them in our society.  

How should we respond?

The fable of the ants vs. grasshoppers has been around for 2,600 years now, and it’s yet to be solved.  We’re certainly not going to solve it today.  Interestingly, The Bible makes mention of the ant twice in Proverbs, in verses which give the ants credit for their wisdom (Chapter 6: 6-9 and 30: 24-25).  Obviously, there are also many verses in the Bible that cite the importance of charity and generosity.  A tough dilemma, this.

Clearly, there’s something deeply challenging about the ants vs. grasshoppers fable.  Until I’d read Elkay’s comment, I hadn’t applied it to our retirement reality.  Others commented that it was also enlightening for them.  I suspect many of you reading this now will also be thinking about this for the first time.

The Point Is This:  Recognize that grasshoppers exist.  As you’re planning for or living in retirement, take some time to consider the implications for your personal situation.  If a family member approaches you, how will you respond?  If the government takes action, what will the potential impacts be on your finances and retirement stability?


Conclusion:  I Want Your Input

The fable of the ants vs. grasshoppers represents a reality that all of us face.  Assuming most of us are Ants, we face the reality that many Grasshoppers will go hungry this winter.  A real moral dilemma, with no “right” or “wrong” answers.  So…

…How should we respond?

I’ll never solve this one, but I’d like to issue a “Call To Action” today.  I’d like a robust discussion in the comments about the topic.  Only one rule:  BE RESPECTFUL, and avoid overtly political commentary.  We’re all adults here, so let’s try to have an adult conversation. (I hope I don’t end up regretting this approach).

Consider the parable of the ants vs. grasshoppers, and drop in with your thoughts and application to your personal situation.  I suspect a robust discussion, so I’ll likely not respond to every comment.  Rest assured I’ll be reading every one and will be using your feedback for my personal thought process of how to handle the dilemma we all face.

I’ll close with this final comment from Elkay:

  • “I will look forward to reading your future post and to see what you and others have to say about the moral and ethical dilemmas our pensionless, high-living generation is facing, both the Ants and the Grasshoppers….maybe there are some boundaries we Ants can establish?”

See you in the comments.  Looking forward to this exchange. 

Go.

89 comments

  1. Of course the answer is different for each family but for me, feeding the grasshoppers may be necessary if there really aren’t other choices. Insisting on keeping that expensive car or house, not giving up costly habits and generally expecting to continue doing what they’ve been doing would mean a resounding “no” from me for help. People have to be responsible for themselves but help should be offered when there are no alternatives and others have enough reserves to weather most storms.

    1. Thanks for the first comment, Pat. Good summary of the dilemma, from “feeding may be necessary” to “a resounding no” if they aren’t responsible. Walking that fine line will be challening, and I suspect many families will face conflict as they sort out their individual situations.

  2. Great analogy! Certainly a moral dilemma for the “ants” of our society who may be faced with “grasshoppers calling at our door. Having been richly blessed and knowing that it is not really mine, I am inclined to favor the charity path with boundaries so as not to jeopardize my family’s future well being. Being a wise steward of what was given me is important and requires wisdom and judgement for sure.

    1. David,

      I concur with your views on giving. What the Lord has granted Carol and I….well, we feel blessed to be in the position to give now, and in the future. We will give to our relatives. None of which excessively spend. This makes it easier on us to give to them. I also speak to them about their futures and retirement. Many do not take my advice.

      Being a good steward of your funds is a huge responsibility! Carol and I did not make this decision without much discussion. Both spouses need to agree on this. That is huge also. God speed Fritz and all of your readers!

      1. Steve & David – I recently read “Money, Possessions and Eternity” by Randy Alcorn. It’s heavy reading, but convicting about our views on money. Both of your comments are consistent with the book’s main message, I’d highly recommend it if you’ve not yet read it.

  3. We face the same situation and have addressed it as a couple by each having our own trusts to avoid funds going to grasshopper siblings. Instead we have planned to fund education expenses for grand nieces & nephews. So far only one has reached college age and gratefully went off to a 4 year state college only to return home a semester later. The reason why is another part of the moral dilemma – these young people knew from the time they were quite young that college was within reach. What the first college going wasn’t prepared for was her parents lack of interest & lack of encouragement when the work load got tough – in fact, her father commented on college move-in day, “enjoy your vacation, I’m sure you’ll be back soon enough.” Our love and encouragement wasn’t enough. But having our plan in place has allowed us to say no to other request for funds, we always reply “we’re saving for your children’s education.” While we have given money in the past to siblings we never have given more than we can afford to lose, never as part of a long term commitment and never enough to relieve them of financial responsibility. Now that we’re retired, we offer to guide siblings in leaning about credit reduction, refinancing a mortgage, saving opportunities, etc. Tough talk, we know!

    1. Maria, I love the approach of supporting college for the kids. Regardless of whether they take advantage of your generosity, it’s an intelligent approach. A friend of mine supported his daughter by paying down some of her mortgage. It was a way of helping, without her having access to the money to spend foolishly. I also like your current approach of offering “coaching”, I hope they take you up on it.

      Interesting discussion in today’s comments, thanks for taking part.

  4. The metaphor assumes that ants and grasshoppers share the same circumstances and only their behavior differs. That is probably mostly the case with family members but not necessarily when it comes to society at large. A desert grasshopper could work hard and save and never accumulate enough, whereas a forest-dwelling ant could work hard and successfully save. Maybe some desert grasshoppers can make their way into the fecund forest, however many lack the reserves and resources to travel there or face a mountain range not if their own making in between them and the forest. Assuming that ants and cicadas are, metaphorically, one species, then the question become Am I my brother’s keeper? To what extent and under what circumstances? Ants are social creatures, they work hard for the sake of the colony, which benefits both them (or their offspring) and the colony at large. We can big like ants and complain if some of harvesting goes to other colony members (taxes), though we should be smart, efficient and unhesitant about it, just like ants.

    1. Deep thoughts. And, “fecund”? Thanks for teaching me a new word today, I actually had to look that one up. No dought, circumstances can influence one’s ability to save, making the dilemma even more challenging than it would otherwise be. I love your expansion on the original metaphor, thanks for adding to the discussion.

  5. As I heard Bob Brinker say many times and I’ve told my kids, “The bank of Mom and Dad is closed.”

    1. “Helping vs Enabling“ is such a fine line so much so that it can be difficult to realize which side of the line you are on….sometimes unknowingly….and highly applicable in this discussion…. we have been blessed beyond our wildest imagination and have worked hard along the journey. We are in involved in charities but draw a very sharp line in the sand at enabling behaviors which requires a very distinct understanding of boundaries and more importantly the communication of the boundaries. I left out a lot of detail here but it’s important to understand your boundaries individually or as a couple otherwise you can get lost in the weeds and wind up with “paralysis by analysis“……thanks for your blog and posts.

  6. There were always be both critters, but hopefully more ants than grasshoppers. That’s probably all we can hope for.

    Funny you wrote this in that I’ve been battling ant infestations on my patio this spring. I’ll try a different tact now and ask them for money vice try to kill them.

  7. Interesting! Here’s another way to look at it. I’m an ant and my wife is a grasshopper. Of course my storehouse is open to her – it is OUR storehouse after all. On the other hand, sometimes she helps me with being a grasshopper from time to time. Life would be boring unless you sing a little. 🙂

  8. One of my favorite fables from my very early youth. Thanks for shinning a light on a forgotten memory.
    Now that you have connected the dots in this piece for me, perhaps, over time it had an enough influence in my subconscious over the decades to consider the importance of planning ahead.
    My response to the dilemma question comes from a safety instruction that I had not heard since March:
    “In the event of an emergency, put your own mask on first before helping helping others.”

  9. We were frugal, kept our cars for 9-10 years on average and stashed the money away for retirement. We saved for 40 years and now fortunately, have enough for retirement. We also have been taxed all these years for Social Security and Medicare. I just turned 66 and I still work part-time. My income is still being taxed for Social Security and Medicare. It irritates me that I am now paying so much in Medicare premiums and am about to be taxed for Social Security benefits. I see so many folks that get new cars, boats, etc that they can’t afford. They are just counting on the good graces of others to survive when they get older. What happens if the money runs out?

      1. And the ever smiling pols will claim all the credit for robbing Peter (ant) to pay Paul (grasshopper) garnering all those grasshopper votes in the process – those foolish ants.

  10. Quite the dilemma Fritz. Well written and relevant. I would suggest that it is the morals that parents teach their children. My parents came to this country in the late 1950’s escaping an impoverished Caribbean island with only a 10th and 5th high school education. They worked numerous jobs and hours to make the American dream possible for us. They told us never to depend on anyone for our livelihood, especially government. As a result, both me and my two siblings are “ants”. However, there are others in our family, especially on my wife’s side, who were dealt a bad hand in life which they could not avoid, specifically debilitating illnesses. Thus, we help them. It’s the right thing to do. This curtails our charitable donations. But sometimes, family must come first.

    1. Eduardo, I love to hear stories of folks who have experienced the American Dream firsthand. Your parents were great role models, and you’re doing well in helping those in your family who “were dealt a bad hand”. Sometimes the moral dilemma is easier to solve. Kudos for putting your family first.

  11. Forget the Ant vs Grasshopper, this is clearly a PARASITE/HOST relationship. I have this problem occasionally with my wife’s family. The thing to do is tell them flat out NO! It actually hurts to hear about all of their travels and extravagant spending over the years. And, we have over the years, lent money to them, never getting any of it back. While I was working , saving, and investing, they were having FUN. Well, now that I am in the drivers seat now, they call me LUCKY. There is no bigger insult than to hear that I was LUCKY. I prepared, and now I say screw them! My wife quietly agrees with me since it is her family we are talking about. Fortunately, my wife is the pick of the litter. She has helped me accumulate a nice retirement. So to those PARASITES out there, I say NO!!!!! What goes around, comes around!

    1. THIS!
      My two siblings (in their 50’s) have cried and begged my parents for money over the years, then turn around and take trips, buy toys, have latest phones- never paid back a dime. Basically feels like a kick in the teeth. Parents super frugal all their life and never have been high earners. Have no idea how my siblings don’t see what shitty behavior this is. Parents are finally done, thankfully. I am a big saver and have given them some money too. Not anymore. The irony to me is both of them have become very religious as adults yet somehow they think this acceptable behavior. They think that talking about money means you are greedy, so they have never sought out any financial education and definitely don’t want any of our advice!

      1. Nothing worse than getting kicked in the teeth…wink.

        As Eduardo’s moral dilemma was clear in one direction, John & DL’s seems to be clear in the other. Definitely a dilemma that varies based on individual circumstances.

    2. Completely agree, John. However, many years ago a very wise man told me that, “LUCK is when planning meets opportunity”. You planned and the opportunity presented, results have been good. Makes luck seem more acceptable.

  12. I’m more concerned about the bird (government) that comes and eats everyone. My siblings are somewhat like Elkays. I would provide them “3 hots and a cot” but I’m not giving them money. Their failure to plan does not constitute an emergency on my part.
    I’ve always admitted I’m not perfect and admit i get bothered that those who aren’t ants get / want things I’ve worked hard for and the “big bird” gives it to them.
    Long before Aesop the Bible tells us God told Joseph to “store up” during the years of plenty as there was a famine coming. His brothers came to him, hat in hand, asking for help. He was able to help them.

  13. Interesting. Good topic to talk and think about and, maybe as an ant, plan for a bit. Hubby and I are ants. We have worked hard, run our cars until they die (He’s still got his first car, a 1978 Chevy truck that he bought used in 1981. I was just forced to a new car after driving my Subaru for 17 years.) We fix anything that breaks, because that’s who we are. We laugh sometimes that we’ll spend 5 hours fixing something we could replace for $10 – but we enjoy the challenge and reward of fixing. No real grasshoppers in our families. He has a brother we’d help any way we could and my parents don’t have much so we’ll end up helping them as we can too. The think is – neither would ask for the assistance. That said, just like when the air masks drop in an airplane, we have to ensure we’re safe first. There is no way that we jeopardize our retirement/happiness for them. The government and it’s insistence on eliminating all personal responsibility could be a bigger problem. Our calculations have been done with zero or very minimal social security assistance as we believe the program is not sustainable. Taxes – probably going to go up in our retirement years – we’re doing everything we can to get our retirement assets to ROTH vehicles to avoid that. As long as Big G doesn’t do something criminal – like tax ROTHs or penalize those with a hefty savings – we’ll be OK. Great article Fritz.

    1. I think you make a really good point and the analogy of the oxygen mask on a plane is spot on. My family are ants, my husband’s, on the other hand (aside from himself) are grasshoppers. We will help them as best we can, but there is a point where we have to make sure we can still take care of our needs long-term and those of my ant family if they should need it. I do confess it would be easier to support my parents and sibling’s family who have done their best to provide for their future if something happened to their best-laid plans than it does when the flaky family members that go on vacations and buy new cars and expensive toys come with their hands extended.

    2. Well, I disagree with the claim that that government is trying to “eliminate all personal responsibility”. (After all, the criminal code is nothing but personal responsibility, and almost every other law is somehow about preventing others from interfering with you.) Still, I am glad that the government provides at least subsistence support. I do not want to see starved bodies in the streets because the person failed to ask me personally for food.

      More generally, these considerations always seem to distill down to this–help the people close to you (family, friends, neighbors, fellow citizens) in diminishing amounts, and be sure that your help is for something important, not wasted.

  14. I can’t see this ever happening. My wife and I were taught by frugal parents to handle money wisely. We in turn taught our kids this as well. All ants. And our siblings are all ants. There is only one of the siblings on either side of the family who is not a multimillionaire in retirement and they are debt free and Iiving very comfortably within their means. There aren’t any grasshoppers available to knock on our door. I can’t think of any of our friends who aren’t living within their means. Most of them are multimillionaires who still live conservatively frugal lives. The idea that any of them would come asking for monetary help is pretty unimaginable. We do give generously to help others through nonprofit organizations and at times we have directly given to people in need, but not to grasshoppers, just to people who were run over by Murphy in life’s crosswalk.

  15. Hope you don’t deem this as too political…

    Support for charity is great, so long as it is your decision – whether that is in favor of other family members, or the less fortunate in society – whether in America or around the world.

    However, there are a lot of grasshoppers out there who seek to wrest control over some or all of your retirement storehouse – in particular, the 536 voracious grasshoppers inside the DC beltway, and many others in the statehouses and city halls.

    They say stuff like:
    – You should pay YOUR “fair share” of taxes.
    – Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that has allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.
    – I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.

    So, all you ants, you need to speak up:
    – Ask the grasshoppers to confirm what is a “fair share” – and that fairness, as a standard, should require taxes from everyone, as all benefit from the American society.
    – Confirm to the grasshoppers that you, a proud ant, DID help build America, the roads and bridges, along with other ants – when you, as a taxpayer funded investments in infrastructure, when you served in the military, etc.

    1. Borders on political, but tastefully done. Thanks for your respectful presentation of a reasonable argument. No doubt that charity is best when it’s done voluntarily, and few would argue the risk that the government could mandate “assistance” by force.

  16. Thanks for the discussion. My wife and I are ants. Unfortunately her parents are grasshoppers. We have helped them with minor expenses and will continue to do so as long as they remain minor. Our guiding principle is family first. But with our society largely comprised of grasshoppers, we consider the consequences of this and are safe guarding assets for our two grown sons if we come to a situation as a country where substantial tax increases become inevitable. So, family first with maintaining future assets for our ant sons. Teaching them the value of money has prevented us from a challenging financial picture. This frees up minor funding of her parents. As for the broader society, we volunteer our time to assist with homeless housing and services to teach others how to be self-reliant. These efforts are funded through time and not necessarily money. Granted, we are funding some of these efforts financially on occasion, but our guiding principle remains in tact.

    1. Stan, I agree it’s difficult when parents are involved. As you know, we invited my mother-in-law to live with us in her later years when her Alzheimer’s reached the point that she was unable to live alone. Fortunately, she was no grasshopper. She was a true gem, but unable to save much due to circumstances outside her control. It felt great to help in her situation. Family first, indeed. I’m aligned with you in worrying about the number of grasshoppers in our society, and like your guiding principles.

  17. While reading this, an add for pest control showed up in the middle–would that I had the intuition of Artificial Intelligence! I used to be a grasshopper, but after marrying, I’ve become the ant to my spouse’s grasshopper! He’s made some great strides in his financial life–but still has a hard time telling himself “no.” I do worry about what might happen if I die first. And that gives you an indication of my “controlling ant” attitude. No siblings to worry about–but a good friend is certainly on my radar. She’ll probably never ask, but I know I need to be prepared. Children are a different kettle of fish. I struggle with knowing how wide to make our moat.

  18. I think that we luckily will not have grasshopper siblings (between my husband and me there are 9 siblings). They have all done a good to extraordinary job of preparing for retirement. Maybe that is the result of not growing up with a lot but enough (a sweet spot). I do worry about our offspring, they do not yet seem to be able to live within their means but they do not ask for gifts/loans and they know that upon retirement we will not be as generous with our gifts.

  19. My husband and his sister are both ants. Their brother is a grasshopper who has never held down a job and has sued every employer for wrongful termination. Unfortunately, they paid just to get rid of him. We always feared this and now find he took advantage once their parents got sick (Mom with brain tumor and Dad with Dementia) and took them to the bank and had himself added to all of their accounts (to help pay bills if needed but all were ownership upon death). Now we are in a legal battle over hundreds of thousands of dollars and attorney fees will eat away at these assets. My husband is Executor and his sister has lost her job and husband has terminal cancer so we have to fight for her. BEWARE of the grasshopper. They are the locusts of the Bible.

    1. Horrible story, Kim. Rest assured that, in due course, your brother-in-law will face consequences for his actions. Maybe not in this life, unfortunately, but he will face the music at some point. Sounds like he is a King Grasshopper, makes me sick to hear the chaos and immoral action he’s taken against your parents. Take care of sis, horrible to think of them dealing with terminal cancer. Sad beyond words.

  20. If you do decide to help a family member or friend, I’ve learned to make it a gift not a loan. A loan won’t be repaid > 90% of the time, and will cause a lot of resentment.

  21. This is a topic that resonates with me, as I have always worked hard and made sacrifices throughout my life. I have come to my own conclusion, that life is not fair and the more you try to live under that concept the more you will be frustrated and disappointed. If you are an ant, it is your destiny to work hard and if you feel inclined that you should help others, then do it. But trying to justify behavior either way will only bring resentment and bitterness, which is no way to go through life.

    Remember when your 80 something and about to die, you do not want your memories to be about bitterness but rather proud of the life you lived and the others you affected positively. Remember the only way to win at life is to feel good about the life you choose to live.

  22. As part of our budget, we include donations to charities and to allow for random acts of spontaneous generosity.
    It makes it fun to keep our eyes open for opportunities to give!

  23. Ant here with 2 grasshopper siblings in their 50’s.
    My parents have helped siblings out numerous times. My sister cried to them about her debt and they paid off $30,000 of car, medical and credit cards-she since has gone on 3 vacations then proceeds to buy two brand new kayaks for fun this summer and has no plans to pay them back. Brother relied on parents to buy a trailer in Arizona park for him and his wife to live (said they couldn’t even afford an apartment). They didn’t pay a dime to my parents despite the arrangement they were supposed to pay each month. Parents finally sold the trailer and brother somehow bought a house- and promptly put in an inground pool (lost home, moved into a different trailer-not financed by parents). One example of many over the years. My parents scrimped and saved over their lifetime, lived very frugally, never had high incomes. My siblings have been given ~$100,000 in assistance each and have not once attempted to pay back any of it. They both have newer phones, TV/cable, sister bought new car. The crazy part is they both earn very little money yet live way beyond their means.

    The extreme lack of respect they show my parents is unbelievable. My parents have finally realized their help will never be appreciated nor will the behavior change. I am a high earner and very high saver. I know after my parents are gone they may come to me (not realizing it isn’t my income but my savings rate that explains why we have money). I have learned they do NOT want unsolicited advice. Therefore my decision is to love them as my siblings but absolutely not provide any financial support. It would be different if they respected when they have been given help, or even tried to educate themselves about finances and wanted to make their situation better. No, all they want is a hand-out, with no strings attached and no payback.

    My parents have decided whatever money is left after they die will be distributed to us 3 kids and 4 grandkids MINUS whatever money was given to help them while alive. Given their previous behavior I’m sure my siblings will squander any inheritance in short order (new car, trips, etc). Therefore I have no inclination to give them any of the money I have worked hard for and saved. We also live very frugally, have older cell phones, do not take expensive trips, paid cash for cars (net worth $3.5M) . I am happy to give them advice if they want, but financial assistance of any kind- NO WAY.

    I am much more inclined to help their kids who are much more financially literate AND considerate. They have come to me for advice, not money, and they have told me they don’t want to struggle like their parents. I am happy to help these younger grasshoppers and maybe future generations. The rest will be given to our favorite charities.

    1. With grasshopper siblings like that, you’ll need to be defensive with your estate planning to prevent them from contesting their “nothing” share of your assets. I hope you have already done this.

    2. “I have learned they do NOT want unsolicited advice.”

      A trait of many grasshoppers, I’m afraid. I hope we can all learn from your parents. BTW, I love that they’re adjusting the inheritance to reflect their many gifts. Great approach. Good luck helping those younger grasshoppers, good strategy.

    3. Very sensible approach!!!By you and your parents.

      **Btw I think those kids don’t seem like younger grasshoppers, but more like, younger ants born to grasshoppers..

  24. Great topic. Timely, too.

    This is in my view the biggest risk in retirement — for ants. Grasshoppers have created even bigger risks for themselves, but they don’t bear this particular risk. They ARE this risk.

    Grasshoppers in the family can be fended off with reminders that they were warned in the past that no help would be forthcoming unless they started making different choices. If you haven’t done this yet, do it now, in writing.

    Government is much harder to fend off. Government is men and women who can lawfully impose their will, using guns if necessary.

    Several hedges can be employed: Mark down prospective SS and Medicare benefits. Mark up prospective tax bills. Buy real estate, gold, BTC and other hard assets. Over-save. Plan to use a very low withdrawal rate. Move to a fiscally responsible city and state. If willing to leave the USA, pay the exit tax and go, but be very careful where you choose to go because grasshoppers are everywhere.

    Trumpet the virtues of capitalism to all whom you meet, because ants can only win in a democracy if the number of ants exceeds the number of grasshoppers. (In our republic, ants are needed to secure 270 electoral votes.)

    1. “If you haven’t done this yet, do it now, in writing.”

      The suggestion to put it in writing is a great addition to the discussion. I’m with you on all of the hedges, btw, except possibly leaving the USA. I love this country, in spite of all of the grasshoppers…

  25. My spouse and I are both “ants”. We both have relatives who are “grasshoppers”.

    Perhaps I would go so far as to call some of them “Locusts”…

    In the past we have made the mistake of helping. But now as we are at the doorstep of retirement, we are less inclined to help provide for able-bodied relatives who are 40 years younger than us.

    When somebody of her side of the family comes to us for a handout, I am the one to say “No”. When someone from my side of the family comes looking for a handout, my spouse is the one who say’s “No”.

    What makes it difficult sometimes is my wife’s habit of portraying us as wealthier than we really are.

  26. We have no family that will cause this issue, but I foresee the government raising taxes dramatically to fund the huge deficits. So to protect our net worth we are converting most funds to Roth now. Additionally we have saved after tax funds that equate to over 50% of our current retirement savings. Our goal is to have only 25% of savings in accounts the government can tax when we retire. When we give money away it goes to our church. I trust the church to use it wisely, the federal government not so much.

    1. Government raising taxes? 😉

      I’m with you on converting to Roth. I’m doing it every year, especially while we have the advantage of the current favorable tax rates. I’m also with you on supporting your local church, the best source for helping others in need.

  27. Great analogy!
    Then there are the “antz” raised in Insectoia. Not fully understanding how they work, but faithfully paying into state pensions and assuming we are valuable employees, so we will be taken care of.

  28. Hello Fritz, I very much enjoy reading your blog. It’s apparent that you put a lot of thought into your articles and I enjoy the brain exercise. The comments this article has evoked have also been very telling, as you predicted most of your audience appear to be ants.
    Being an ant for the majority of your adult life seems to put us in the position of having the time to sit around and read retirement blogs on a beautiful summer morning. My retirement, like most of the people reading your blog I suspect, came as a result of many years of making mostly the right money decisions. It’s thousands of little decisions that get you to financial Independence, and it’s nice when that happens early enough in your life that you still have time left to enjoy what life is really about.
    My wife and I had this discussion about the ants and grasshoppers in our family about 2 years ago, and we resolved it by putting everything we have into a trust for one of our niece’s who had the bad luck of being born severely physically handicapped. She is extremely bright, with a great sense of humor, but my wife and I know she’s going to have the greatest struggle in life so we wanted to make it as easy as possible for her.
    So now when the grasshoppers have come knocking, as they always do, it’s just their nature, l can honestly tell them that the cookie jar is empty. Of course several of the grasshoppers have told me “that’s not fair”, to which I responded, “I know”.

    1. Yet 31NDUN, I’ll bet those grasshoppers whining about “fair” wouldn’t want to trade places with your disabled niece. If I had a family member with that kind of situation, that’s where all of my wealth would be going.

    2. Thanks for your kind words about my blog, and for being one of the very few who have read every post! I love your quote about “it’s thousands of little decisions that get you to financial Independence”, couldn’t agree more.

      Great approach on using the trust to take care of your handicapped niece, and a great solution to fighting off the grasshoppers. Had to laugh at the final two words of your comment. Thanks for contributing value to the discussion.

  29. As others have noted, the typical grasshopper is one who has not become poor due to uncontrollable life circumstances, but rather from living above their means and failing to plan and save for the future.

    Therefore I do not feel inclined to throw more money down into their infinitely deep hole of neediness and want. I would share food but not become their ongoing support system, as that just breeds more dependency.

    I do know some ants who wisely make exceptions for children of grasshoppers, and I would do the same if the situation arose. The kids are blameless and simply the victims of their parents’ bad decisions. And it is my hope that the children see the folly of living beyond means and take steps to not repeat this.

    My one weakness is a dear friend who always did live large and for the moment, but also always paid her bills on time and doesn’t like to take from others. She has also had several occurrences of really bad luck through no fault of her own; collapse of her career during the Great Recession, unforeseeable health crises, and family illnesses and deaths. I’ve made her beneficiary of some of my estate, and I know she’d likely blow through it much faster than I would, but it makes me feel better knowing that she would at least be able to cover her expenses and continue living as she chooses for a number of years.

    1. Lynne, I do feel for the “grasshoppers” who have arrived at winter with no food due to circumstances outside their control, but agree with you that those are likely the minority. Every has to be responsible for their decisions, and decisions have consequences. That said, those of us who have been blessed should look for opportunities to be charitable with those who are down on their luck due to no fault of their own, such as children of grasshoppers and your friend. I applaud you thinking of her when you planned your estate.

  30. Having read all these comments my heart is sad because of the foolishness of so many people. I think asking God for wisdom in so many of these situations is necessary as they appear to all be different. I think of the Book of Proverbs and the lessons it teaches us when communicating with foolish people. Unfortunately giving money to a fool can sometimes make things worse. On a personal note it’s an awesome thing to give to individuals who’ve been dealt a difficult hand and i think our generosity shows if we have a hold on money or does it have it’s hold on our heart.

    Great reading the comments and the words of wisdom.

    1. We think alike, Roger. Many of the lessons of Proverbs apply, and we all have to ensure we’re not being greedy with the gifts we’ve been blessed with. Many of us who have been blessed with material success may have received those gifts just so we can share them with others who have real needs. Interesting topic.

  31. Having enjoyed the grasshopper’s music while I diligently worked and saved during the summer, I have planned for charitable donations through tax savings. I will take on some responsibility for my family since charity begins at home, and I already pay taxes for government handouts for others. God forbid my saving goes for naught should a flood or COVID-19 fallout (Depression) scenario hit me, where I may need comfort from my grasshoppers and help from our government.

  32. The Grasshopper and the Ant is a favorite story of mine from childhood. Another is The Little Red Hen. In this story, the hen tries to get any of her “colleagues” in the barnyard to help her with the various steps needed for making bread. She asks for help in planting the wheat, harvesting, milling the flour, and finally baking the bread. No one can be bothered to help until she asks, “Who will help me eat the bread?” At this point, of course, everyone wants to join the Little Red Hen in eating the fruits of her labors. But she correctly refuses to allow any of the freeloaders to enjoy her bread, and explains exactly why. They are disappointed, but admit they are undeserving of bread.

    Like the Grasshopper and the Ant, the Little Red Hen story has echoes of biblical scripture. From 2 Thessalonians 3:10, For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

    I am quite sure that these two stories helped prepare me to accept responsibility for my own financial future as a young adult. I am ever thankful that in 1979, at the age of 27, my wife and I were invited to a financial planning seminar where we were offered the opportunity to make a decision to establish and execute a financial plan with the goal of eventually becoming financially independent. We feel fortunate today to have achieved the goal of financial independence several years ago, and I’m now in year 8 of a carefree and abundant retirement.

    While I readily agree that we are obliged to assist where we can for those who cannot do for themselves, we do nobody any favors by doing for them what they can do for themselves.

    1. Paul, thanks for adding The Little Red Hen into the discussion, another great story on the same theme. Interesting how these stories may have influenced you on your journey, I’m sure whoever wrote them would be happy to know their words are still having an impact. Congrats on 8 years of retirement and adding your wisdom to the discussion.

  33. I am not as worried about my siblings as I am my parents and in-laws. I come from a low/middle class family and my husband and I have been successful in our careers and savings/investing goals. Our families know we’re doing well, but don’t have the details. My husband and I ‘joke’ that someday we’ll have to pay the heat bill. But it’s not really a joke. It terrifies me. Will we be in a position of needing to take care of 4 adults? If so, for how long? If we have to pay the heat… what about food, electric, housing, etc? While we are not responsible for our parents today, that could easily change in the future. We don’t always agree with our parents’ spending choices, but since they are currently self-reliant we can’t really say anything. We just see they’re walking a tight rope and we know it’s not an option to have our parents go hungry, be cold, etc. So we will step up when the time comes. But it makes me angry to think about it! Why should I go without today, so they can have it tomorrow? Am I selfish? Should I be a better person and want to take care of them? It’s very complicated. At this point in time, I am just thankful we haven’t had to step in financially. I will continue to save and invest (because that’s what I enjoy doing) and leave the rest up to God.

    1. Kelly, no doubt about it, dealing with aging parents is a major issue as we prepare for, and live in, retirement. We helped my mother-in-law (she lived with us for 4 years, Alzheimer’s), but have been blessed that my Dad is able to pay his own way in a private assisted living facility. The grasshopper vs. ant moral applies for our parents, our kids and others in our society. Challenging topic, for sure.

  34. Great discussion Fritz and it becomes a fine line with family and friends.

    For example, a close family friend made poor decisions throughout life. Of course, I helped as best as I could. However, if there were three choices, he unerringly always gravitated to the worst possible outcome. So frustrating!!!

    Instead of feeding them fish, I belief in teaching them how to fish. At some point they need to learn to take responsibility for themselves. From a societal perspective, not sure that will ever happen due to rampant consumerism and “keeping up with the Joneses”. After all, that’s what seems to drive our economy and why so many dig their own financial graves.

    1. Shannon, “teaching them to fish” is a good addition to the discussion. Unfortunately, some people just don’t want to learn. As you said, frustrating. I agree that “keeping up with the Joneses” has likely increased the ratio of grassshoppers in our materialistic world. It will be interesting to see how things evolve as the Joneses reach retirement age and struggle to maintain employement to pay all of their debt obligations. Sad, really.

  35. Fortunately, the vast majority of me and my wife’s siblings are ants. One set of parents is a semi-grasshopper so we will likely need to set up a plan whereas once the parents need help, we will set up a budget and plan whereas each sibling contributes and/or helps. We have one semi-grasshopper sibling but they are perfectly capable of earning if they need to (both in healthcare) so there are no plans to bail them out because they choose not to work in more lucrative jobs.

    I’m mostly concerned about society’s grasshoppers. Personally, I want to choose what charities I support so will do what I can/want to minimize government mandated subsidies (taxes) to grasshoppers such as geo-arbitrage (international move is a possibility), supporting political activities that are in line with my views and other stuff I can think of when the time comes.

  36. My criteria on financial support is as follows – is the recipient doing absolutely everything within their capacity to help themselves? If no, then I provide advise only. It is my money, so it comes not with strings, but steel cables. I decide the criteria. Have they cut all non-necessary bills? Working two or more jobs? Living a healthy lifestyle? Healthy relationships often involve financial assistance, and we should give freely in those situations – both parties benefit. It really feels good to help someone who uses financial gifts responsibly. The only situation where I am not sure of a good solution is for elderly parents or those who cannot help themselves. Luckily, so far, I’ve not had that situation.

  37. I send my Grasshopper siblings over to sit atop the Scorpion as the Frog carries them upon her back. Then send a few Carpenter Ants upstream to throw an occasional leaf into the water to act as a lifeboat. The leaf is not meant to be comfortable or sturdy, but steady enough to learn a lesson.

  38. I too don’t have my mind settled on this. My concern is giving it away before my wife and I pass. You never know what life will bring your way.

    Lately I have been thinking about a multi-generational approach. Live comfortably – don’t tap into the principle – pass it on. Perhaps put it into a trust so that future generations can only tap into the growth over inflation. I believe it will be more and more difficult for future generations to build wealth and this would be a good legacy.

  39. We’ve given charitably for 25 years (Yes I started at 20 Fritz!! 😄😄😄) and probably could be in a position to retire 10 years earlier had we been 100% ant mentality. That being said we’ve been blessed beyond measure in our giving and helping others with “gifts” and NEVER “loans”…Jesus said freely you have received so freely give… it’s been a totally interesting consequence of practicing generosity that we are building wealth at a much faster rate then some of our counterparts who don’t “feed the grasshoppers “… or in another way Jesus said you will always have the poor. Take care of them. Those of us who believe in God are promised a rich reward in heaven!! Fritz this is a fantastic article!! One of my favourites other then when you featured me!! 😂😂😂. God bless!!!

  40. Wow, this is a great topic and looking at the responses, I am sure more will follow. My wife and I are ants as well and according to our planning we should be set when we retire one day. Our siblings are a mix of ants and grasshoppers. We have talked about this topic in many ways and as far as helping out the answer is it depends. If they have done their part, whether losing the lavish lifestyle or cutting back then we will see what we can do to help within reason. We are all accountable for our own actions and sometimes people learn later about accountability. Would I help someone because they are losing a home due to medical issues, yes but it would not support what I would consider lavish things. Would I for someone that is using it for something I wouldn’t spend money on, no. They need to have skin in the game.

    With regard to what happens if the government wishes to tax us to pay for the grasshoppers I go back to “The Overtaxed Investor: Slash Your Tax Bill & Be a Tax Alpha Dog” by Phil DeMuth, the government has given us what we have that allowed us to be ants but it always has the right to change the rules so be vigilant on how to protect what you have. Government is looking for re-election. So we need to learn from people like Fritz and others here on ways to preserve what we have so we can decide on how we can help those who need it. So thank you Fritz and the others who in other posts have had some great thought provoking ideas.

    For me the question is why did I become an ant. For me it was about security and my grasshopper sibling and parents said I should learn to live. However, I am perfectly fine with less stuff because security and less junk brings me a peace of mind and that makes me happy. Call me simple or a simpleton, but I find my greatest riches in the times spent with family and friends and if I am blessed to help and they are doing their best to realize and learn, then I can help.

  41. Well, I’ve certainly come late to the party here! That’ll teach me to leave a ‘Fritz’ post in my Feedly queue for later!
    Having been an ant for all of my adult life, my greatest fear is being a grasshopper to my kids in my later life. The last thing I want to do is have to ask them for help to pay bills etc in my old age, just when they’ll be (presumably) raising families of their own.
    That’s why the ‘one more year’ syndrome will be a huge thing for me to walk away from.

    1. Better late than never, FdJ. Since it’s taken me so long to answer your comment, I guess we’ll call it even? Wink. I’m sure you won’t become a grasshopper to your kids, especially since you’ve been an ant all your life. Worry not, life is good for us Ants. 😉

  42. Interesting read!

    Hadn’t considered the morality of that fable before either!! I’d probably always help to some degree as it’s just in my nature and I’d feel too bad for the people whether they’re loved ones or not – however it’s only in recent years of being financially sound myself where it’s easier for me to do so and I’m not as selfish as I was in my 20s 🙂

    I’m also coming to realize over the years that the more ways we can use our skills/blessings FOR GOOD, the better everyone is for it. Even if it’s hard to carry through sometimes…

    So if that grasshopper came to me in desperate times and needed assistance, I wouldn’t be able to say no to him despite his past doings (nor would I probably even *know* what his backstory is as we rarely do in the real world!). That’s not to say I’d go overboard in my generosity, but I def. wouldn’t turn my nose at him and tell him tough luck.

    1. “I’m also coming to realize over the years that the more ways we can use our skills/blessings FOR GOOD, the better everyone is for it.”

      Wise words, Mr. Money. Your generous actions within the blogging community speak louder than any comment you could leave. You’re a great example for all of us. Thanks for stopping by!

  43. I have a twin brother Grasshopper, we’re both in our late 40s.
    As my dad got older he sold his house to my brother below market rate and set up in his will that this delta would count against my brothers inheritance. Later, after the ‘08 crash, I let my brother off that hook.
    When my dad passed, we split the small inheritance 50/50. I suggested my brother buy VTSAX to find his retirement. He did so with a small amount and used the rest to buy a very expensive new truck (in his 40s, like he was 18). I used mine to fund my kids 529s as a legacy to their grandfather.
    So after that, I would have to say, he made his choices and I made mine, and there is no way I’d help him, outside of advice, in any financial matters.

  44. The Ants and Grasshopper fable presents a situation where the grasshopper will starve without the ants help. I don’t think starvation is the issue here. In the US the government has welfare programs, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Nobody will be forced to go hungry or without medical attention as a result of failure to prepare for their non-working years. The issue today for those who fail to prepare is that they will need to get used to a drastically reduced standard of living than what they are used to (e.g. no cell phone, smaller house, old beat up car, consignment clothing, eating at home every meal, antenna TV rather than cable, etc.). Many of those who saved aggressively to prepare for our non-working years have already made the choice to live without some of the luxuries others view as necessities. If an ant is approached by a grasshopper asking for help to maintain a luxurious lifestyle the ant is probably wise to introduce the grasshopper to the joy of simpler living. Just my 2 cents.

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