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Financial Fables: Timeless Money Lessons from Classic Folklore

Financial Fables: Timeless Money Lessons from Classic Folklore

May 01, 2024

As innocent youths not yet bombarded by the conditioning of life’s marketing, children often grab on to fables with more speed than a quickly melting ice cream cone during the summer. These fictional stories creatively embed brilliant life lessons in their fantasy worlds and capture kids’ naturally vivid imaginations.

Folklore fables and fairy tales can play a significant role in shaping our behaviors from a young age – behaviors that show up glaringly in finances and money mindsets. These creative yet focused stories hammer home important morals and lessons that can drive our attitude toward all aspects of life planning. Routinely these stories emphasize and focus on virtues like hard work, contentment, delayed gratification, foresight, and patience, but also do well to rewire the material and greed-indulgent conditioning our children will receive as they grow up.

Financial concepts, specifically, can often be quite abstract to young minds, so laying them down neatly within vivid and creative storylines is great for carving a foundation of understanding and resilience.

The Ant and the Grasshopper (Aesop's Fables)

One of Aesop's most famous fables, this tells the story of a grasshopper singing, dancing, and playing all summer while an ant works tirelessly to gather food for the coming winter. Instead of admiring the ant’s hard work, the grasshopper mocks him for working so hard instead of just enjoying himself during the summer. The ant ignores the grasshopper's comments and warns of the need for grains and warmth come the cold winter months, but the grasshopper laughs and plays his violin with no regard or concern for the future.

When winter finally arrives, the grasshopper - freezing and starving – naturally runs to the ant’s abundantly packed nest and begs for shelter and food. The ant, enraged at the grasshopper’s attitude and approach, denies him. The essence of the story is one of hard work, planning ahead, and saving rather than solely enjoying oneself with no regard for the future. Instead, we need to balance current enjoyment with proper saving for a secure and fulfilling future or, in the human world, retirement.

The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs (Aesop's Fables)

In this tale, a farmer somehow owned a goose that laid a single glorious golden egg every day. In taking the eggs to the market, the farmer found himself achieving true financial comfort and stability with a steady stream of income for his family. But soon he grew tired and impatient, wanting to make money even quicker, so he decided that killing the goose would produce more eggs. His greed, ingratitude, and impatience drove him to destroy rather than nurture and appreciate the income machine he had found.

Stone Soup (European Folk Story)

This appetizingly named story focuses on several travelers arriving in a small village with only an empty pot, tired and hungry. When asking the villagers for food, the travelers were rejected – the townspeople had “nothing to share.” The travelers, downtrodden, then filled the empty pot with water and a large stone and put it over a fire.

A curious villager came by and asked what they were doing. They explained they were making stone soup, a delicious broth made from a special stone that they would be willing to share if the villagers had some garnish to spare. One intrigued villager offered some carrots, another some potatoes, and of course another sprinkled in salt and spices. Villagers kept coming over to put in any ingredients they could offer - cabbage, meat bones, seasoning.

Soon there were countless contributors and a massive bowl of delicious soup for the village to share. Through cooperation and even modest contributions, a seemingly simple stone soup can feed many. In other words, it takes a team and support systems to achieve compounding success – financially and interpersonally.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf (Aesop's Fables)

With the responsibility of protecting a flock of sheep near a village, a young shepherd boy was instead driven by boredom and a mischievous desire to scream “Wolf, Wolf” and scare the villagers even when there was no wolf present. The villagers ran over to help protect the sheep, but soon realized the boy had lied. This happened several more times before a real Wolf appeared, and the villagers, then distrustful of the boy’s claims, didn’t show up. The sheep were eaten.

This old tale emphasizes the importance of honesty and authenticity as virtues, particularly when in a position of power, providing financial advice, and dealing with others’ money. Honesty is an ever-repeating moral.

King Midas and the Golden Touch (Greek Mythology)

King Midas in Greek mythology was very possibly based on the wealthy and perhaps greedy ruler of Phrygia in the 8th century BC. As the story goes, one day the king met a satyr (a follower of the god Dionysus) and, after treating the satyr well, was offered any wish he wanted as a reward. Midas wished that everything he touched would turn to gold.

At first, he loved the gift, turning everything he could into the lustrous metal. Yet when food and drinks started turning to gold and his daughter, running to him for embrace, too turned into a golden statue, he realized his folly. He begged Dionysus to reverse the wish. King Midas was told to bathe in the river Pactolus, whose waters reversed and removed the golden touch curse.

The myth highlights the hidden underbelly of unchecked greed and desire for wealth, shining a light on the need for moderation, gratitude, and prioritizing the human relationships that really matter over simple materialism.

The Tortoise and the Hare (Aesop's Fables)

Slow and steady wins the race, thought a tortoise who was mocked by a hare over how sluggish he was when in motion. Upset with the mockery, the tortoise challenged the hare to a race. The amused hare, overflowing with confidence, saw a race with the tortoise as an easy win.

After starting strong with a huge lead and basking in his own hubris, the hare took a nap under a shady tree as the tortoise kept plodding along steadily, consistently. When the hare awoke, he saw the tortoise getting ready to cross the finish line – frantic, he tried to catch up, but it was too late.

Skill, speed, and natural ability mean nothing when overwhelming arrogance and recklessness drives behavior. Consistency, determination, and work ethic surpass pure talent as factors best predicting success.

The Elves and the Shoemaker (German Folktale)

A shoemaker who fell on hard times in his business had just enough leather left to make one final pair of shoes. He soon finds himself aided by a couple of elves who secretly make shoes for him at night, bringing his business back to prosperity. To thank the elves, the shoemaker and his wife make tiny clothes for them. The elves were thrilled and continued to make shoes each evening.

While reinvesting back into one’s business can be a financially salient bookmark here, generously repaying kindness is the life lesson worth digesting.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (German Poem)

A poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe written in 1797, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (which also became one of the segments of Fantasia) features an elderly sorcerer leaving his apprentice with clear instructions not to use magic he doesn't fully understand. Of course, the apprentice gets tired of carrying buckets of water himself, so he uses the spell book to make a magical broom do it for him.

Unfortunately, the apprentice forgets how to stop the broom and it continues fetching water until the room starts to flood. He splits the broom in half, which creates two brooms fetching water. Soon enough the apprentice has an army of brooms carrying water to a flooded room. The story is a cautionary tale of only using what you understand and warns against the hubris of wielding power and extending leverage beyond what one can manage.

Rumpelstiltskin (German Fairy Tale)

A poor miller's daughter is imprisoned by a king after her father falsely declares that she can spin straw into gold, the father evidently desperate for his daughter to appear remarkable in the presence of the king. A magical imp appears and saves the day for her by spinning the straw for her in exchange for her first-born child. When the girl becomes a queen and has a child, realizing what she’s done, she pleas for a reversal on the trade. As a test, she must guess the imp's name - Rumpelstiltskin - to keep her baby. In this fable, she does guess it correctly after hearing him sing it while dancing around a fire. But the moral here is to always be honest and true to oneself when making claims and fully understanding what is involved in a trade or agreement.

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (Arabian Nights)

Ali Baba is a poor woodcutter who discovers the secret treasure of a group of forty thieves. The story begins when Ali Baba overhears the leader of the thieves saying the magical words "Open Sesame" to gain entrance to a secret cave. Ali Baba gets into the cave himself using the same words and finds a boundless collection of treasures. He takes some gold and silver to help his family, but his greedy brother learns of the treasures and tries to take some for himself before his life is taken by the thieves.

Through Ali Baba's cleverness and resourcefulness, rather than simple brute force, he outwits the thieves and solidifies his wealth. This rings true in net worth and the linear ways in which many try to get rich quick or take risky linear approaches to building wealth. Environments that focus on flexibility and long-term efficiency need to be basking in the warmth of strategic and solid diversification.

What does it all mean?

Many tales and a plethora of radiant morals lead us to the water of perspective. In essence, retelling classic fables or myths can extract some very basic but striking life morals that show up most evidently in our handling of money matters. The values and behaviors encoded within these folklore classics lay the impactful groundwork for our future approaches to earning, saving, adapting, appreciating, and building wealth for our families.

2024-173723 Exp 05/2026