Years ago, my friend Joyce said something I’ve never forgotten. Speaking about herself and her husband, she said, “He’s the ant and I’m the grasshopper.”
In other words, he worries about money and she doesn’t.
That was when I realized the fatal flaw at our house: We don’t have any ants here.
My husband, also known as the Big Grasshopper, couldn’t care less about money. His idea of financial planning, when I start to fret about money, is to say, “Lie down and take deep breaths. See? You’re feeling better already, aren’t you?”
Actually, I am. That’s the sad part. It doesn’t take much to convince me — after I’ve taken all those deep breaths and gotten kind of lightheaded — that we’re doing just fine. Hey, what was I worrying about?
The truth is, in any other household on earth, I’d be the grasshopper, hopping all over the place, whooping it up, taking life easy. In our household, a/k/a the Land of the Grasshoppers, though, I’m the designated ant. The fake ant. The one who allegedly plans our finances, who pretends she knows what she’s doing.
“How much do you all spend every month?” our financial advisor asked me today. Well, he’s kind of our financial advisor. He says he’s going to help us make sure we have enough money to retire someday before we’re 105. But he looks a little concerned that the Big Grasshopper didn’t show up, too, even though I reassure him that this is all for the best.
How much do we spend every month? Well, kind of just about exactly what we make. I can tell I’m starting to get glassy-eyed just contemplating the matter. I try to look smart and savvy and in control, the same way I do when I take my car to a mechanic and act like I actually know the difference between a carburetor and a catalytic converter. (“Oh, yeah. The automatic seat-ejection unit needs to be replaced? Well, sure, if you say so. Let’s repair it.”)
We plod through our assets and liabilities and I note that if there doesn’t seem to be a plan, it’s because there isn’t one. Ha, ha. The financial advisor nods gravely and says, “Well, yes. But that’s why it’s a good thing you’re here. To come up with a plan.”
Well, yes, theoretically. The trouble is, I find this financial planning idea to be very threatening to my sense of spontaneity. After 35 years of marriage, my husband and I have never had a budget, ever. I know — because I read lots of financial columns and shake my head about everything we’re doing wrong, which is, like just about everything there is to do wrong — that we should have a budget and financial goals and plans and schemes and strategies. I’ve never yet read a financial column that sees lying down and taking deep breaths as being a sound fiscal plan, but I keep looking for it.
But, to me, being in a financial advisor’s office is roughly the same as going to a dentist. Every time I’m in the dentist’s chair, I sit there and swear to myself I will spend the rest of my life flossing at every opportunity and brushing my teeth for hours at a time. I feel guilty and vow I’m going to change my life, my wanton ways, my eroding gums, my little ice-cream problem.
Similarly, here. I leave the office with a questionnaire about our financial goals. I feel a strong sense of purpose, an assurance that I am finally getting our financial lives under control, that I am earning my stripes as a fake ant.
I plan to store the questionnaire next to the dental floss, where I’ll be sure to see it one of these days.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)