Money Grows On Trees

There’s a whole series of folksy parent-isms that range from irrelevant to the point of being actively misleading (like “life isn’t fair” – maybe true, but very bad advice) to being the exact opposite of the truth. I love thinking about them, and one of my absolute favorite from the latter category is “money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Because… of course it does.

But let’s take this apart, shall we? First off, trees grow a ton of stuff that’s worth money. Heck, trees are worth money. But that’s surface-level insight that I think most people figure out by the time they’re adults (or much younger in some cases), so let’s go a little deeper.

Let’s say money – as in actual currency – did grow on trees. That wouldn’t be any more helpful to you, for a whole host of reasons. One of those reasons is that “growing on trees” is not the same thing as “effortlessly appearing before you.” I mean, oranges grow on trees, but you don’t have an infinite supply of oranges appearing in your kitchen on demand and for free, right? Even abundant resources that grow in nature without our help still require us to put in effort to go and get them.

In fact, interesting story – a few cities have tried to help their homeless population by planting only fruit-bearing trees in public spaces, as opposed to typical shade trees. The idea being that having some free food just literally growing in public spaces would be great for those that might have difficulty getting their next meal ordinarily. Sounds good in theory, but it didn’t help. Why? Because those public spaces are frequented by lots of people that aren’t part of the homeless population, and nothing was stopping or discouraging them from picking the fruit for themselves.

Which brings up another point – even if money did grow on trees, that neither means there’s an infinite supply of money nor that you would be the one to get the limited crop that did exist.

Now, let’s take the phrase in the spirit of its intent – usually, this is a parent’s way of saying “we don’t have infinite money, so whatever expensive and ludicrous thing you just asked for, the answer is no.” But think about the message that sends on a deeper level. It says: I have to work for my money, which is inherently harder than it would be if money grew on trees. Money growing on trees is a Utopian fantasy.

But which is easier – buying corn or growing it yourself?

Working for your money is actually much easier – in the short term. If you had to actually plant “money trees” and then wait for them to grow and start yielding little pennies when they were very small and eventually ten- and twenty-dollar bills at maturity, you’d be waiting a long time for any sort of income. Which of course is what you would have to do – so called “wild” money trees would be picked clean long before you ever got there, unless you were willing to camp day and night by the money forest until the first bills started to unfurl in the Spring, and even that would be a lot of work.

Natural resources are abundant. And useless – until you do some kind of work to make them useful to you. Even if you had a backyard full of fully-mature, blooming Money Trees – that does nothing until you go out and harvest the crop. You still have to work somehow.

And of course, you absolutely can plant money trees. I mean, they’re called trees. You could plant something that yields something else that someone will pay for, harvest it, and sell it – it’s called farming and it’s pretty much the first invention. Even in a more modern and less literal sense, you can plant seeds now – investments, small businesses, etc. – that will return passive income for years to come, after a ramp-up period that’s slower than simply getting a job. In fact, it’s a pretty good idea.

Money grows on trees. Go plant some.

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