Over the years, I have been studying wildlife in the woods behind my house.
My favorite critters are the squirrels that scamper and dash among the trees, and I spent a lot of time learning about their habits.
One of the aspects of squirrels that fascinates me is how they make it through winter. The survival tactics of squirrels have evolved over millennia in the ultimate testing ground of Mother Nature.
Winter survival is the wildlife equivalent of financial planning for people. Squirrels have to allocate resources, deal with risk/reward scenarios, and execute a plan consistently.
Let’s take a look at how squirrels do “financial planning” and see how we can apply that to our lives.
Three Financial Lessons From Squirrels
1. Stash Stuff Away
Most squirrels prepare for the lean times of winter by stashing away nuts and other food. This seems like an obvious thing to do and reflects on our need always to be saving as much money as we can for our lean times.
What squirrels have taught me about stashing valuable things away is that there is no perfect plan.
Some squirrels like the American pine squirrel, create a MASSIVE central food stash called a midden. A midden can have a diameter of 30 feet and be several feet deep. It takes considerable energy to construct a midden, but the result is enough food to last for many winters.
This is an “all of the eggs” in a single basket approach to investing that has its obvious drawbacks. Pine squirrels are highly territorial and have to fight to protect their middens. If the midden is lost then the squirrel can starve. On the flip side, some Pine squirrels are so successful that they end up leaving the midden to an offspring as a massive inheritance and go create a new midden in a different territory.
Other squirrels, like the grey squirrel, have a highly diversified portfolio. They will create multiple food staches all across their territory. This approach works out well in case they happen to make a “bad investment” for one particular food stash. A case in point is this squirrel that filled a car engine with walnuts. He lost that food stash but had more stored elsewhere!
The point is that both types of “squirrel investment plans” have their pros and cons. What makes both kinds of plans work is that squirrels are consistently stashing and storing. They find something that works, and they stick to it!
Pick an investment plan, get started, and be consistent.
2. Invest in Yourself
Another way that squirrels prepare for winter is by investing calories in changing their bodies.
Squirrels will eat voraciously in the fall to bulk up for the lean winter months. They will also develop a thicker, warmer coat to keep themselves toasty. These are traits that are independent of the food stores that help them survive winter.
Similarly, we need to make sure that we are investing in our bodies. When you are physically fit, you feel better, think sharper, and have the energy to get more stuff done. Being physically fit also has a high probability of saving you money in the long term in reduced medical costs.
Getting your body in shape is one of the best investments that you can make. It pays dividends fast, and nobody can take it away from you.
3. Keep it to a Minimum
When winter finally hits, most squirrels will hunker down and wait it out. You will see some squirrels as they dash out to their food caches or grab an easy snack at your bird feeder, but by and large, they tend to stay in their nests and keep warm. Some squirrels particularly ground squirrels, hunker down by simply hibernating through winter.
An extreme case of hibernation is the Arctic ground squirrel, and it teaches a real-world example of Minimalism. When the Arctic ground squirrel goes into hibernation, its core body temperature can drop to several degrees below freezing! This squirrel shuts down everything that it does not need and aven sacrifices parts of its brain. When the weather warms up, the squirrel comes out of hibernation and regrows the parts of its brain that it lost during the cold.
Learning to get rid of stuff that we do not need is a massive step towards financial independence. I think we all know this, but starting down a Minimalistic path is a hard journey for some people to begin. So consider this, if a squirrel is willing to sacrifice its brain for its independence, then isn’t there something that you could give up that isn’t nearly as drastic?
Wrapping It Up!
Systems and processes that have been proven evolutionary effective by Nature can be successful models upon which to base your financial independence.
All of the tactics used by a squirrel to survive winter (store resources, take care of their bodies, only use what is needed) are extremely simple.
You can take these same simple ideas and start applying them to your situation today. Financial independence can be pure if you let it!
Michael launched Your Money Geek to make personal finance fun. He has worked in personal finance for over 20 years, helping families reduce taxes, increase their income, and save for retirement. Michael is passionate about personal finance, side hustles, and all things geeky.