Say Hello to the Monarch

MonarchWilliam Cowie is a previous contributor to 20s Finances and blogs about investing at Bite the Bullet Investing. Get his Investing Basics series, free for 20s Finances readers. 

The monarch butterfly is one of the most remarkable creatures in the world. Why — what’s so unusual about it? I mean, it’s not bad looking or anything, but surely there are prettier butterflies and bigger.

What makes the monarch remarkable among butterflies, indeed among all animals, is not what it is or looks like, but what it does.


An entire generation hatches in Texas, then flies north to lay eggs and die in its normal life cycle of 6-8 weeks. The second generation hatches and flies further north, where they, too, lay their eggs and die. The third generation hatches, and flies even further north to Canada to lay eggs and die in a place neither they nor their parents have ever been. How do they know to keep flying north? One of nature’s mysteries, for sure.

But it gets a lot more remarkable. The fourth generation hatches in Canada, but then flies back south across the Big Lakes.

Stop and think of that for a second. You can float if needs be. But do you think you can swim across Lake Erie or Lake Ontario? The monarch butterfly, as tiny as it is, flies across those lakes, with nowhere to rest and no food to eat, battling winds, rain and all other elements. A monarch flying through rain would be like you trying to swim across Lake Ontario with bowling balls dropping on you at more than a hundred miles an hour… at the rate of about one every minute.

It gets even better. This plucky fourth generation of monarchs keeps right on flying south across the cities, grassland and farms of the entire America, all the way to a particular spot deep in Mexico. They’ve never been there and weren’t shown by their parents or grandparents how to get there, but they know exactly where to go. Scientists studying the monarch have released tagged butterflies from this fourth generation from all over America to confuse them, but somehow they all mysteriously find their way to this one spot in Mexico, where they gather by the millions. That’s right, millions survive crop dusters, hail, rain, predators, heat and wind, and fly right to the same place where monarchs from other places home in on.

That fourth generation is quite remarkable. These winged wonders live more than twice as long and fly more than three times as far as each of the previous three generations… in the opposite direction, to a destination neither they nor the previous three generations had ever been. And they do this year after year after year. Whatever theory of origination you subscribe to, you have to admit this is one remarkable little creature.

Against all odds, and with no guidance from their parents, they know the right thing to do.


Did you grow up with little or no guidance from your parents or family on money matters? Welcome to the club… it’s a big one.

But you have a choice. You can stay in the club or you can get smart.

Smart people are like that fourth generation of the monarch: they know the right things to do and the right places to go, even though nobody before them showed them the way or even did it themselves. They know sometimes it’s a struggle and not all have the strength to make it, but those that do are the champions of the species.

The Right Place

When it comes to money, the destination of all champions of the species is… investing.

Investing? Really?

Yes. Think about it: there are only two ways you can make a living:

  1. from your labor (a job or a business)
  2. from your investments (dividends, interest, rent, etc.)

All sources of income boil down to those two.

If you’re like most, you were “hatched” in a place where you don’t have investments to make a living from. So you spend a good part of your life saving up capital to invest.

Then, one day you arrive at the place you set out for, a place neither your parents or grandparents may ever have been, but a place where the champions hang out.

That place is not having to work. When you’re there you can work if you want, but you’re not trapped, obligated to take the best job you can find because you have to pay the mortgage and all of those other expenses that are part of life today. Some call it retirement, but that word has acquired a meaning far too restricted to convey the true nature of that destination, which is freedom: freedom to work or not work, travel or not travel, freedom to do what you really want to do.

That freedom comes from investing… and nothing else.

If you’re even halfway successful in your personal finances, you want investing to be part of your future.

Or not. Some people think investing is not that important, at least “not now.” Others fear the unknown, and for them investing comes under the heading of “unknown.” Still others think investing means the stock market. Not so. In fact, by far the largest investment category is not stocks at all.

If You Can Shop, You Can Invest

Investing is nothing more than shopping. If you can shop, you can invest. Granted, it’s not plain shopping, more like shopping on steroids. There are a few things you need to know before you can start buying. That’s the bad news.

The good news is shopping for investments is not rocket science, and you have time. You don’t have to have money to invest to learn about it. In fact, the best time to learn is before you have money to invest. That way you won’t be tempted to just jump in and grab the first proposition that comes along (you know, like Facebook stock in 2012).

More good news: there are numerous free sources of learning about investing on the internet. Unfortunately, almost all of them are focused on one particular kind of investment. Those are all good, but you need to remember that particular type of investment isn’t the only one.

The best thing is to get a “big picture” view first of what the broad options are and how they stack up against each other. You also want to figure out the universal principles that apply to all kinds of investments.

Unfortunately, sites that take a big picture view of investing are few. It seems most people offering advice have a slant, be it from their general interest or something they make money from. (Disclaimer: shameless plug ahead) To fill that void I created Bite the Bullet Investing, which doesn’t focus on any specific type of investment and offers no investment advice. Rather, it provides a general platform of information all investors need to succeed, regardless of which investments they decide to proceed with.

As with every good thing in life, some “do it” and some don’t. Same with investing. Some don’t, and end up cleaning tables at McDonalds and living with their kids in a spare room, with grandkids looking at them with big eyes, asking: “When are you leaving?”

Others are doers, defying the odds, identifying where success is to be found and getting started, even if the start is small.

With investing, an early start is more important than how small or big the start is.

Success is optional: anyone can choose to succeed or not. It’s not a matter of talent, and it isn’t rocket science. All it takes is starting and learning… and then sticking with it.

Not hard at all. Millions do it. You can, too.

All it takes is biting the bullet and getting started.


One Response to Say Hello to the Monarch

  1. This is one of the best personal finance articles I have read in quite some time. I’ll admit, it got me fired up! Also, it made me like monarch butterflies a lot more! Kudos on the great post.