Are You Smarter Than a Moth?


The next time you wander into your kitchen, take a look at your refrigerator. Stop and think about all of the really…er…cool things it does for you. Open it up. Take a moment to look inside, maybe grab a snack. 


What would you say if I told you that your refrigerator is the perfect cage for a moth? 


So says Emmanuel Derman, a pioneer in quantitative finance and author of the book “My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance.” It seems that Mr. Derman went to his refrigerator to get some lunch one day and found a moth inside: 


“The moth was attracted to the refrigerator light. Every time I opened the door, the refrigerator light came on, and the moth loved it and hovered about.  Every time I closed the door, it got dark and cold inside and, of course, unattractive to the moth, but since the door was closed it couldn’t get out.”


To get it out, Mr. Derman simply disabled the light and held the door open while the moth flew out. (However, he doesn’t reveal what he did then about getting the moth out of his house…) He concluded from all this that the refrigerator is “a fiendish cage designed just for moths, who were free to leave whenever the door opened, but couldn’t because of their character/constitution.”


“Cute story,” I hear you thinking, “but what does it have to do with the price of Starbucks© in Austin?” Well, it seems to me that this is the perfect parable for the materialistic trap we keep falling into.


Maybe it’s an ad (I can’t afford not to buy at that price!), or the new Whatchamajigger 1000 your neighbor just bought (if they can afford that on what they must make, I can, too!), or perhaps just something that catches your eye in a store (I’ve been working really hard and deserve that!). Whatever it is, the light comes on and you’re sucked into it, just like a moth. You buy it, even though you don’t really have the cash right now to pay for it. But hey, that’s what credit cards, payday loans, home equity loans, 0% interest offers are for, right?


And for a while it’s fun to dance around the light, enjoying what you’ve just bought. Slowly, though, so slowly that you don’t really notice it, the satisfaction fades, the light dims. That empty spot that you thought you’d filled creeps back. You’re tired of juggling the bills, trying to stretch the paychecks. The light is out, it’s cold and dark, and the door looks like it’s closed tight.


But you have an advantage over that moth. A BIG advantage. You can turn away from the light and toward the door. You can reach out and open it! 


I know, now you’re thinking, “Yeah, sure. Nice ‘rah-rah’ talk, Budget Guy, but it ain’t that easy.”  


Maybe, maybe not. But here’s how you can make it happen. 


>   Develop a spending plan so that you know you’re spending your money on the things that are most important to you (including some fun things)

>   Avoid sales except for necessities

>   Avoid ads and stores that sell your weaknesses

>   Beware of “freebie” gimmicks; they’re designed to get you to buy things you don’t need

>   Unless you pay off your balances each month, DON’T use a credit card; use a debit card or better yet, use cash

>   Set an amount you won’t go above without sleeping on it first

>   Don’t use shopping and trips to the mall as entertainment

>   When you do go shopping, make a list and stick to it; ask a friend to go with you to help you stick to your list and spending limits

>   Copy the “urge to splurge” questions in the box and stick them in your wallet – in front of your credit cards


And think about this: The more our lives are taken up with stuff – buying it, working to pay for it, maintaining it, fixing it, storing it, disposing of it – the less room there is for God. Of the 168 hours in a week, how many get taken up dealing with stuff? How many do you give to God? Is the mix about right? Or is it out of whack?  (Don’t forget, God’s giving you all of eternity!)


So unscrew the light bulb, turn around and open the refrigerator door. Wonderful things are waiting for you right outside!