The Law of the Harvest: A Man Reaps What He Sows


“A man reaps what he sows” is a passage taken from the book of Galatians (chapter six, verse seven if you’re wondering). And while Paul may have been intending to address his readers’ spirituality, the Law of the Harvest can be applied across the board–spiritually, politically, and financially.

Here we’re going to focus on the financial aspects of reaping what you sow.

Consider the process that a farmer goes through to bring his crops to harvest and finally see the results of his intense labors. The soil must be cultivated and prepared, the seed must be planted, the crop must be protected to the extent possible from the elements, it must be watered consistently, protected from weeds and other parasites, harvested and finally sold.

From idea to money in the farmer’s pocket, the process is a long one. When you combine the long process with the manual labor that’s required throughout, one could say that a farmer exhibits certain traits that enable him to successfully apply the law of the harvest:

  1. Hard Work
  2. Persistence
  3. Optimism

In financial situations, the law of the harvest is alive and well. The only question is whether you choose to live it.

Hard Work

Naysayers of the YNAB software cite a learning curve (which I try and mitigate as much as possible) that is relatively steep. This, unfortunately, keeps many people from never really giving the software a full-fledged effort. A few days ago I decided I would see how difficult it was to get Quicken up and running. I bought a copy and went to work. And it was work! I still haven’t finished getting everthing up to where I’d be comfortable with it (and frankly, I’ll never get comfortable with it because it doesn’t have the Rules), but I made some headway.

Dismayed users of YNAB cite the difficulty in building their first budget, or the nuances of what it means to age your money (it’s subtle, but so important!).

As a result of this learning curve, with the attending dismay that it brings, I wrote the Four Rules–my attempt to separate software from methodology with the hope that a thorough understanding of the methodology would make the software’s functionality intuitive.

A new setup guide is in the works, and the free workshops have been a great success.

All this in a quest to make that steep learning curve more like a gentle slope. And I say all this to drive home a point that’s probably been lost a bit in this tangent:

Despite all the helpful tutorials, documentation, wiki, faq, and friendly people at the forums, adoption and full benefit of the YNAB methodology and accompanying software will require some hard work on your part. You will reap what you sow, however.

Several weeks ago I was asked why I don’t make the software more “mainstream” so I could broaden its market appeal and “make a lot more money.” As I thought more about the question I came to a clear realization. For me, YNAB has never been about selling software–it’s been about helping people see and manage their money in a new, more effective, efficient way. When asked what I do for a living? I help people learn to manage their money.

I guess the marketing approach is depth instead of breadth. Impact in people’s lives rather than impact on the bottom line. For some reason, I have this feeling that they’ll both converge at some point and I will be right on both counts.

When I first approached my wife about selling our budgeting system to the world, she said it wouldn’t work. I ignored her and went about doing it anyway and soon realized the potential roadblock that I was facing in my marketing pitch. I was going to have to tell people that they should save one month’s expenses. It seemed to be a fairly mean catch-22, staring back at me. People were coming to the site because they were probably operating with a very small amount of wiggle room in their finances, and here I was supposed to be coming in waving the banner of Financial Freedom with the simple instruction: Save your money.

‘Save your money’ to the guy that’s been operating in the red for several months is not too encouraging.

So regardless of whatever great ideas the community comes up with to help new users with that learning curve (wiki and tutorials? both the community’s ideas), there is still going to be hard work in the newness of the whole idea, hard work with the implementation, and hard work with the ongoing tasks required of you (that’s right, you track what you spend — every penny).

And all that hard work? I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. You reap what you sow (examples found here).

Persistence

While the world is full of cute sayings plastered onto inspirational posters of sunsets and sailboats (a journey begins with a single step, if you see a man atop a mountain–he didn’t fall there, etc.) the actual details of getting something done and making change is much less glamorous.

You don’t feel glamorous when you have a pile of receipts on your left, and some dorky budgeting software staring you in your face (on that face? an expression of perplexion). But those moments are when things get done.

If you’re a spouse “flying solo” because your significant other isn’t (yet, see optimism below) on board, you don’t feel so glamorous doing the above with them smirking or muttering–or both.

There certainly isn’t anything glamorous about putting a few things back at the grocery store once you see that your total is over budget. An embarrassing situation for most of us.

But you persist because persistence is key to change.

You may not feel especially successful when you first begin this process of change. Think about it. You’re possibly reversing years of bad habits. While I’d love to tell you of (and sell you, ha!) a fairy godmother, that would wave her magic wand and make you the savviest shopper, wisest budgeter, and sage-iest sage of investing…

Alas, that won’t happen. Ever.

You must persist in doing things that are good for you. You have to want the change more than you want those new tools, shoes, and gadgets. Persist!

To sharpen focus, I will give you two things which you must persist in doing until you are physically no longer able:

  1. Write down everything you spend. Gauge how frequent this needs to be for you and then never ever ever stop doing it.
  2. Plan, at least monthly (with each inflow if necessary), what your money should be doing.

Need software for that? Absolutely not. Any excuses worth mentioning? Absolutely not. Any reason why you can’t start today? Absolutely not.

I’ve persisted long enough with this, so I’ll end with my favorite quote about persistence, worthy of any picture of sailboats and sunsets:

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Optimism

Our farmer is optimistic about the future. He believes that the weather will fare well enough, his work with the soil has been good enough, and that the seeds he has planted will grow.

You too can be optimistic about your financial future!

Be wary of damaging your optimism by comparing. Don’t compare yourself to anyone except your past self. Don’t worry if you have mountains of credit card debt when someone else doesn’t, that you make less than Joe or Jane, or that you couldn’t take your kids on the fancy vacation that your kid’s friend went on over the summer (and don’t try and puff yourself up by assuming it was all on credit card debt–just don’t worry about it at all). A sure-fire way to feel down about yourself is to compare to others. Realistically, the only person you really can compare yourself against is your own self. Financial situations are far too unique to be comparable to any degree of meaning.

When you work hard and persist, you have a right to be optimistic. You don’t have a right or guarantee of success. I heard it phrased once that we believe in equal rights, not equal results. So hang onto the right you do have. Based on the law of the harvest, you have a right to be optimistic. Be just that!

The law of the harvest stipulates that what you sow, you will reap. I believe that law is unequivocal. I’ve seen it in action. I’m certain you’ve seen it in action. Put in the necessary hard work. Learn the YNAB methodology and implement it. Persist in your efforts! Be optimistic that you will achieve those goals you have in mind. When you sow the seeds of sound money management, you will reap the requisite rewards. You’ll be debt free, your retirement contributions will be on autopilot, your emergencies will be small speed bumps, and you’ll be on your way to financial peace of mind.