How Millennials Can Embrace their Inner Grasshopper, Be the Ant, and Retire Early

A well-known fable tells the story of a hard-working Ant, and the flighty Grasshopper. While the Ant saves her food throughout the Summer, the Grasshopper sings the summer away. The Ant cautions the Grasshopper to stop singing, and start working. The Grasshopper does not listen. Come Winter, the Ant is warm and fed in her house, while the Grasshopper starves.

It is, of course, a morality tale cautioning young people against wasting their youth in frivolous pursuits when they should be saving for the Winter of old-age.

But I reject the notion that the flighty Grasshopper is any less capable of saving and retiring in comfort than the industrious Ant. It is, instead, a problem of perception and understanding.

Here’s the flip side of the same coin: When asked in an interview what surprised him about humanity the most, the Dalai Lama replied:
“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
The Grasshopper is in many ways the man who heeded the Dalai Lama’s warning. He lived. The end was rough – true – but the journey was sweet.
Free stock photo of sunset, beach, people, women
Just Grasshopper-ing away!

 

Why be one, when we can be both?

Luckily, life is rarely an all-or-nothing proposition. If the Grasshopper was given the option to sing while he worked, he might have achieved the same goal as the Ant by Winter. In fact, buoyed by his song, he could have worked even faster and retired to his home full of food and song by Fall. (I’m really digging this metaphor. Can you tell?)

But, the Ant never gave him that option. And, in many ways, neither did His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Millennials Sing A Different Song

Of all the generations that came before us, Millennials are uniquely situated to embrace their inner Grasshopper’s zest for song, and work like the Ant. Think about it.  We tend to shy away from spending our money on the traditional big-ticket items that our parents and grandparents thought were so essential to their economic and social status. We invented the sharing economy where we reduce costs and pool our resources to achieve the same end.

  • The Fancy Car: Millennials (usually described as 18 to 34 year olds) are about 29% less likely to buy a car. http://cityobservatory.org/young-people-are-buying-fewer-cars/ This is attributed to a change in attitudes toward more sharing and more green, anti-car values, versus a fear that we simply cannot afford a vehicle.

I have recently chatted with many friends – especially those who live in cities – who have given up not one but all the family’s vehicles and rely solely on Uber or Lyft. These savings are most keenly felt by folks who live in the city and don’t have to rely on Uber/Lyft. They can bike/walk/use the rails to go where they want. Interestingly, I recently listened to a story on NPR discussing voters new found willingness to vote “yes” in referendums gears towards raising money for bus and train networks. The article posited that this was largely related to Millennials – who joined the voting public in the last decade – and who value public transport more than their predecessors.

  • The Big Home (or, really, purchasing any home at all): Like cars, Millennial home ownership rates are also way down. According to this article in the Washington Post, home ownership rates among Americans under age 35 are barely more than half the national number, at just 34.1 percent. This is a record low and about a fifth below its peak from the mid-2000s. http://wapo.st/2bxNTcG?tid=ss_mailIn fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if older Millennials, who did buy a home, are now thinking of scaling back to a rental. We certainly are in this boat. Not because we cannot afford our current home (we purchased way below our means), but because the more we think about it, the more we realize that home ownership no longer matches what we want from life.
  • The Stuff: I think it’s telling that there are now companies that allow you to rent clothes https://www.letote.com and http://www.bagborroworsteal.com/ Sites like these allow me to wear very nice clothes and carry very nice bags to my company’s uber formal events or weddings without expending the resources to buy the big ticket item. Now, that we’re thinking outside the box, I’d of course first check if I could borrow the items from a friend before renting them, but you get the idea.
  • Travel: Personally, my guilty pleasure has always been travel. But with apps like https://www.airbnb.com/ and https://www.homeaway.com/, and ubiquitous internet resources teaching the average Joe to travel hack, even this song can be sung free or dirt cheap. I definitely plan to blog more about this subject, but cannot recommend using good quality hostels enough. When even AirBnb or the like is too expensive, a hostel can be a great option. I have stayed in hostels in NYC, and Miami and always had good experiences.

A great resource for low-cost/no cost travel https://www.amazon.com/Frommers-NYC-Free-Dirt-Cheap/dp/1118369017
My point is I’m a Grasshopper, and you can be one too. But that doesn’t mean that Millennials like me don’t know how to work towards a goal like an Ant.

With all the resources at our beck and call, and the unique characteristics of Millennials helps us sing a slightly different song than generations before us, I am convinced that we can be both.

Let me know of ways in which you embody the characteristics of the Grasshopper AND the Ant as you travel towards Financial Independence

without ceasing your song.

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