While I’m a far cry from an expert gardener, it’s been a hobby of mine since I was little. And it’s always been a family affair. I can’t ever recall a summer where my dad and I weren’t trying our hands at a tomato plant or twelve. Not to mention the ill-fated encounter with a pumpkin vine and his riding lawn mower. When I was even younger, my grandma taught me how to grow moss roses from seed and then harvest them for seeds for next year’s gardens. Then there’s my mom. She has a remarkable eye and knack for landscaping that I wouldn’t put it past her to retire a second time and start working for a gardening center. Now that Mr. P and I have been living in our home for three years, he’s been roped into the gardening mix as well. We’ve had our share of successes and failures, but he’s equally enthusiastic about gardening.
While I still can’t really explain the difference between a brandywine or a beefsteak tomato, I can say that there are quite a few parallels between starting seeds and planting pennies. Here’s what my garden has taught me:
Spend money to save money. This year, Mr. P bought me a rain barrel and a composter for my birthday. While the upfront cost was a bit hefty, our water bill is out of control year round. We don’t water our grass (much to his chagrin), but we do water our garden during long stretches of dry days. So, I was more than eager for a chance to slash away at that cost. The same is true for the wire fencing we have used around the garden for the past three summers. We could have taken our chances with the raised beds alone, but buying new plants or trying to re-grow seeds in the middle of summer seemed frustrating and not very cost effective. Since we’ll have the barrel, the composter, and the fencing for years to come, I do think we’ll save some money in the long run.
And this isn’t unique to gardening. In fact, spending more to save applies to nearly all facets of life. Whether it is making your home more energy efficient or spending a bit more on a product that will last a lot longer, there are times when paying a higher cost up front allows you to reap rewards long into the future.
Spend money NOT to save money. I laugh when people tell me they garden to save money on groceries. While it’s true that the grocery line item in your budget might be less during the summer months, setting up or maintaining a garden isn’t exactly cheap. In addition to the initial cost of materials to build raised beds, to cage or stake plants, and to tend to your garden, there are other ongoing costs, like time. Last summer, I brought my dad a tomato from my garden and he remarked, “This is the best $10 tomato I ever tasted!” Truth be told, even organic produce is affordable when crops are in season. So I probably could purchase some, if not all, of my homegrown veggies from the farmers market or grocery store. But I like gardening. Maybe I read one too many Laura Ingalls Wilder books growing up, but I enjoy the fresh air, the sunshine, and the fact that I can create something so delicious out of a teeny tiny speck that once was a seed.
And this is true for many things. When it comes to spending money, it isn’t always to reduce costs or to save for the future. Sometimes, you spend money on things or experiences that bring you fulfillment or add utility to your life. And that’s OK.
Work with the future in mind. Just like in finances, scarcity is scary. If you’re going to take the time to garden — whether you plan on harvesting the crops or simply enjoying their beauty — no one wants to feel like their garden failed and a season was wasted. I understand. However, it is vital to resist the urge to overcompensate. When you put that tomato seedling or hosta in the ground, it is tiny. But plants grow. And they compete for space and sunlight and nutrients. There’s nothing more self sabotaging than not envisioning what your garden will look like in a month, a season, or a year.
The same is true for money. It might not look like enough in an account. But if you don’t spread your dollars around into emergency funds, investment accounts, AND other options, you’re only hurting yourself in the long run. Just like plants, money grows over time.
Know what you’ve started. What color bloom will show up on the bulb you planted last fall? Are you growing green beans or wax beans? Where did you put your seedlings and what is the prospective yield or height? As tempting as it may be to open several seed packets and let Mother Nature do her thing, you’ll reap many more benefits if you’re clear on what you’ve planted.
Ditto for your money. Tempting as it may to be leave money in an account because it’s the same bank the rest of your family uses or continue using the same credit card because it’s a hassle to get a new one, you could be leaving money on the table if you’re not mindful of your account benefits or why you opened them in the first place.
Take a step back. Earlier in the summer, one of my tomato plants started to wilt when the mercury hit 95. I knew Mr. P watered the plants earlier that morning, but I immediately put the hose on the root base and let the cool water cascade through the mulch for a good five minutes, effectively drowning my poor plant. I’d like to tell you that I didn’t have a repeat experience with three of my cucumber plants, but I’d be lying. Yes, you should tend your garden. Yes, you should pay attention to your plants. But you should also trust that they can do their thing, even during difficult conditions. Sometimes the best advice is to do nothing besides observe.
And if that isn’t also the best lesson I’ve ever learned about investments, I don’t know what is. Some days, the markets will look fantastic. Other days or weeks or months, there will be lots of red. But just like it rarely makes sense to rip out a plant or douse it with extra water, sometimes you just have to keep your hands to yourself and let the market do its thing.
So Tell Me…What kind of gardening are you doing this summer? What sorts of lessons has nature taught you?