Encore post: Don’t let the tiny beetles kill your financial forest

More Money Than Month is taking a little vacation this week but so as not leave you empty-handed, I thought I’d share with you again some of my favorites from the last year and a half. Since we are on the topic of vacation, I thought I’d share a thought that came to me during on vacation last summer. We were privileged to take a vacation through some of our beautiful National Parks in the west. It was amazing to me the devastation that has occurred in the Black Hills due to a tiny pine mountain beetle. But it is just as true in our own lives that it is rarely the big things that derail us but the tiny details we ignore.


This summer I had the opportunity to take my family on a vacation to the Black Hills and to Yellowstone. It was a wonderful trip. I had been on a very similar trip when I was a kid. I recalled that the dense pine forests of the Black Hills really do make them look black from a distance. So I was very surprised to find many of the hillsides look more grayish brown than they did black.

Turns out that there is an infestation of mountain pine beetles that has killed thousands of the trees. The beetles bore under the bark and lay their eggs. When they hatch they begin to excavate horizontal galleries through the tree. The beetles also bring a blue-stain fungus with them. The combination of the two act to cut off the supply of nutrients to the rest of the tree and the tree dies. The picture at the right shows one such tree that has been killed by the beetles.

Now here’s what is remarkable. These pine beetles are approximately 5 millimeters in length. Less than a quarter of an inch!! And yet a few of these tiny beetles can destroy a tree that is 50-100 feet tall.

Nice story but what is the point?

Many times comparatively speaking tiny things can do great damage.

This is especially true when it comes to financial matters. Occasionally, it is the big things that lead us to financial disaster. The loss of a job. A major medical issue. But far more often it is the small day-to-day decisions we make that bring down our financial forest.

Small purchases

Many times we feel we have no extra money. We’d like to save or to pay off debt, but we say there’s just not enough left at the end of the month. Yet, we stop at Starbucks for coffee each day. Or enjoy going out to eat a few times each week. Our phones have features we don’t really use and our cable TV package goes mostly unwatched. None of these things seem that serious. After all it’s only a few dollars a day. But over a month or a year it can really add up.

A few more beetles and another tree falls…

Busyness and neglect

The other “little” thing that often torpedoes us is simply busyness.

We know we ought to balance our checkbook, but we never quite get around to it. As a result we bounce a couple checks and pay $100 in fees.

A few more beetles and another tree falls…

Probably ought to schedule a meeting with my insurance agent and review my coverage, but never quite get the appointment made. Then something major happens like a car accident or maybe a house fire, and we discover our coverage wasn’t quite what we thought it was.

A few more beetles and another tree falls…

We don’t really take the time to check our bill statements each month. So we don’t notice if there is an error in the charges. We don’t really pay attention to those extra services that we don’t really need. And so each month we pay a little more than we really need.

A few more beetles and another tree falls…

And then there is the budget. We know we ought to have one. But that would take time and we don’t really like adding up all those numbers, so we think, well maybe we’ll start next month.

A few more beetles and another tree falls…

Don’t let the beetles take down your financial forest

I don’t want this post to sound judgmental. I understand that sometimes life happens to us before we know it. I’ve been guilty over the years of allowing a few of those beetles to kill some of my financial trees too.

It is still amazing to me how such a tiny insect could kill entire hillsides of trees. In the same way so often it is the little daily decisions that eat away at our finances. It’s ok to treat yourself with some of those small purchases, but if you are struggling financially, don’t let those little things add up to big things. Life can get really busy. I struggle with this myself. But make the little things a priority when they need to be. Don’t let tiny things destroy your financial forest.

What financial “beetles” have you struggled with?

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