Beware of romanticized parables that convince you to adopt a dangerous financial strategy devoid of any reality in today’s world.
One such story is the “Mexican Fisherman” parable I scrutinized in Unscripted over 5 years ago. Today, this parable is being enthusiastically circulated around the web as some modern “lifestyle doctrine” you should adopt without question or critique.
However, for most people, this parable has become a risky and convenient excuse for sloth and poor financial planning.
If you haven’t heard the “Mexican Fisherman” story, it goes like this:
A businessman stood at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish. "How long did it take to catch them?" the businessman asked. "Only a bit," the Mexican replied. "Why don't you stay out longer and catch more fish?" the businessman then asked. "I have enough to support my family's immediate needs," the Mexican said. "But," the businessman asked, "what do you do with the rest of your time?" The "Mexican Fisherman" said, "I sleep late, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, take evening strolls to the village, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor." The businessman scoffed, "I have a Harvard MBA, and I could help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, you buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you could sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would need to work a bit longer and harder in the big city, but you would control everything." The "Mexican Fisherman" asked, "But señor, how long will this all take?" To which the businessman replied, "Five to ten years." "But what then, señor?" The businessman laughed and said, "Well, that's the best part. When the time is right, you would sell your company and become very rich; you would make millions." "Millions, señor? Then what?" The businessman said slowly, "Then you would retire, move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would sleep late, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, take evenings strolls to the village, where you could sip wine and play guitar with your amigos…"
Sounds pretty cool, eh? This story emphasizes noble things such as friends, family, and free time. It is no surprise why it is such a viral trope.
The problem is, this story lacks any connection to real life.
It is entirely idealistic to the point of being dangerous. Such idealism might work in when you’re 23 years old, but as you get older, this type of strategy is the same as thinking your first winning hour at the casino will continue for the next 8 hours.
Here’s the rest of the story you didn’t here:
Soon after the businessman left, things changed. The government, desperate for tax dollars, levied a series of boating, gaming, and license fees: To continue fishing, the Mexican must pay $400 for a fishing license, a $200 environmental fee, a $350 game endorsement, and $1,800 in mooring fees. If he doesn't pay ASAP, the Mexican will be barred from fishing. Unfortunately, after paying all the fees, the Mexican has little money left to insure and license his boat. Unable to legally operate in his favorite coastal town, the "Mexican Fisherman" drives three hours south to another town, where the quality of the fish is poor. The long drive takes its toll on the Mexican's car, where it ultimately breaks down. To fix his car, he needs $300 for a water pump and $600 for a radiator. This is after he pays $400 to get his car towed back to his village. But this story is about to get worse. Instead of making the money to fix things that needed fixing, the fisherman's home is in a constant state of disrepair, from the eroding concrete pilings to the rotting roof, the Mexican is in town fiddling away at his guitar. A hurricane strikes his tiny village and demolishes his home, leaving him and his family homeless. For the next month, his family is stuck living in squalid government tents, and as a result, the Mexican fails to pay the mooring fees for his boat. The "Mexican Fisherman" who spent most of his days in unpreparedness and merriment—strumming around with his friends, sipping wine—now has no money or options to escape his plight. Tired of his sloth and inability to provide the basics to his family, his wife divorces him. The fisherman now sings a much different tune with his amigos, one of anger, bitterness, and regret.
Which one of these stories sounds more realistic?
In both stories, the fisherman has the same goal: freedom with his friends and family. That’s honorable.
Unfortunately, when money is removed from a real-world existence, idealism becomes a nightmare—a repeated reality in every civilized country worldwide: bills, fees, taxes, divorces, unexpected tragedy, life overhead, and money problems.
The problem wasn’t the fisherman’s goal—freedom; the problem was he was lazy and disrespected money’s role. He didn’t save, prepare, or produce in excess of consumption.
Don’t let anyone convince you that money isn’t important.
Money can buy security, options, and freedom—all of which will likely make you happy.