Everybody knows the story of the ant and the grasshopper. The ant toils during the summer to save up for winter, while the grasshopper has a jolly good time and finds himself starving in winter.
Perhaps it’s not an exact analogy, but in my mind, I am an ultimate ant. I always pay credit cards in full, fill the gas tank when it gets to about ¼ tank, always have a reserve roll of toilet paper ready in the bathroom, and usually stock backups of everything before it runs out. My husband is the complete opposite. Before I married him, I would curse him when I went to his place and found an empty toilet roll staring at me in the bathroom, after which he would sheepishly hand me a box of Kleenex through the door. I have been in his car when it stalled to a stop in the middle of the street because he was out of gas. I handle all our finances now, because on his own, he managed to rack up a hefty credit card debt that had me crying for weeks.
Being an ant is not all good. For instance, since I tend to stock up, I horde more and need extra storage for those toilet rolls, bottles of shampoo, reams of paper, etc. Another negative is that I have a kind of psychological disorder about not wanting to eat the last bit of anything. Therefore, I tend to waste a lot, and end up throwing out the last cup of yogurt or fruit that went bad. Or I discover that one last piece of chocolate that I had saved and it now has a pasty, white film on it.
Are you more of an ant or a grasshopper? Do you think this is more of a gender thing, or is it something about our upbringing? While neither of our families were wanting, I received an allowance and learned how to budget and save, while my husband didn’t.
QUENTIN: Definitely an ant. I was raised an ant by my mom who’s an ant. My dad should have been an ant but he’s a grasshopper. But now that I think more… I also have a grasshopper side but it’s repressed by my ant side. I guess I’m more like my mom after all… and I think that’s a definite strength of mine. In college, I finished every paper at least 2 weeks early so I could submit a draft to the professor for review before final submission… a guaranteed A. In grad school, I finished all my graduate reading halfway through the semester so I could travel to conferences and make films the rest of the semester. But as I grew older, I’m trying to let my grasshopper side to come out more because that’s the spirit of an artist.
ROGER: In terms of finances, definitely an ANT. I have lived an incredibly frugal existence for much of my adult life. I think it’s a combo of my fiscally conservative parents rubbing off on me combined with choosing to work in a very, very unstable and unpredictable career field (acting). I was so afraid of not having enough money to live on if I wasn’t able to book a gig for an extended period of time. Living lean was kind of cool in a zen monk kind of way. But it really sucked trying to impress dates with instant mac and cheese mixed with canned tuna and tobasco. As for everything else in life, because I didn’t consume much, I didn’t need to stockpile or prepare for much either. So I was neither ant nor grasshopper. That is, until I got married and had kids. Now I’m a super ant when it comes to having enough food and household necessities. Basically, the storage area of my home is literally a mini-Costco. So if we ever had a 10.0 earthquake, I could become pretty rich selling supplies to survivors.
PHILIP: I don’t think I’m either. I’ve never run out of gas or toilet paper. I’m not in debt and if an earthquake happened, I’d like to think I’m prepped. But at the same time, I don’t really think about those things and live life pretty much day to day.
ALFREDO: Ant, ant, ant. BUT, with the occasional grasshopper brain fart. For example, 99% of the time, when I go to the market, I’ll remember to buy backup laundry soap even if I have half a bottle left. Ditto on extra light bulbs. But the thing I actually came for – milk, bread, toothpaste – 1% of the time I’ll blithely walk away without them (and usually, once I get back home, the ant rears its ugly head, slaps the grasshopper silly, and sends me back to the market before I even get out of the car).
DHH: Neither the ant nor the grasshopper alone seem like a good life model to me. The trick, of course, is to find some kind of balance between living for the moment and preparing for the future. But that’s easier said than done. On balance, I probably veer towards the grasshopper side, but, particularly with a family and kids, work hard to curb my more free-living (and free-spending) impulses. A successful painter once told me that artists should be comfortable spending money on hand, but avoid amassing debt. That struck me as not a bad principle on the whole, so long as you could also figure out how to put something away for retirement.
With material items, I’m an ant. I hate doing errands so I stock up on stuff (every toiletry/household necessity imaginable, business supplies, etc) in order to avoid having to run out and get something last minute. I keep food, wine, and changes of clothes/shoes for any occasion in my car (1989 prom? I’m covered!). Yesterday I realized that I haven’t started Christmas shopping yet, and was surprised.
I’m grasshopper and ant with my finances, though. I’m crazy frugal with some things (100% of the time I’d rather go for a hike with a friend than out to eat), but I do spend quite a bit on non-essentials – mostly on exercise or art-related classes and supplies/gear. That stuff is important to me, but it should really go into my retirement/savings/repayment of a business loan.
But every now and then, I do the right thing and buy something truly essential to my survival, like this:
(yes, got it yesterday. I know. I shouldn’t have)
I’m leaning towards no on the gender thing (though maybe a couple of percentage points skew towards females being ants). There’s probably a fair amount of nurture adding to nature, but I think nature takes the cake here.