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Aug 20

Lessons From an Apple Tree

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I came home from work yesterday, and on the way to the front door I grabbed a couple of apples from my apple tree. I didn’t think much of it until later when eating the delicious fruit. It was picked at just the right time; sweet and crisp, a flawless perfection of nature. I tried to remember when I planted that tree, maybe eight or nine years ago. I remember buying the tree, pretty much on a whim, not really giving it too much thought at the time.

 

For some reason this year’s harvest was particularly spectacular. There were so many apples I doubted I we could eat them all before they fell to the ground to peacefully decompose. In fact the last few years many apples ended up rotting of the ground or in the compost pile.

 

It was not always this way of course.

 

The first few years there were not really all that many apples and the ones that did grow were smallish and not that great tasting, but over the years the harvests got steadily larger and larger. The apples got better and better, almost like those first few years they were practicing at being apples. The tree grew steady until it could no longer be ignored. I had to constantly trim the branches back or yield the parking spot in my driveway over to the apples. It has grown from a pretty pathetic looking Charlie Brown apple tree into a pretty formidable organism. It was awesome.

 

According to the internet the average price of organic apples is $2.34/lb. I have no idea how many pounds of apples are on that tree, I’m guessing at least a hundred. Let’s say we manage to eat 50lbs before we weep at the thought of eating another. By my math that’s $117 worth of apples that I don’t even have to go to the store to buy. All I do it walk out my door and grab one. I doubt I paid more than $50 for the tree. In other words the tree is giving me more than twice its initial cost in apples every year for the rest of its life. Not bad, huh?  Not only that, but if I want to go out and earn $117 I have to pay state and federal taxes on that income. Assuming a 35% combined tax rate I have to earn $180 dollars to keep my $117 apple money.

 

If I figure out a way to not be quite so lazy and maybe learn to store these apples or dry them or do…whatever else one does with surplus apples, it is likely I double my return.  This tax free apple dividend will likely continue to grow much faster than inflation as the number of apples each year increase, and presumable the price of apples will continue to increase at least with inflation unless there is a revolution in the apple industrial complex that delivers these juicy globes of awesomeness to us each and every day. And if I’m feeling really crazy I could even take a bag to my neighbor and trade for a few pears that she is sick of eating.*

 

So what does this have to do with anything? It’s about the long term effects of the choices we make. It’s about investing in freedom. When people ask about my so called frugality and deprivation** I will point them to my apple tree. I could have spent that $50 on a new shirt, or a dinner out or an incremental upgrade to some gadget that was fine enough – but I didn’t. Instead I bought the apple tree.

 

It didn’t feel like the best use of money at the time, but look at what it has become, and it’s just one little tree. I now have $117 or more dollars in my pocket each and every year that I can buy designer jeans, iphones and artisan cheeses with instead of apples. And it is unlikely that anything I bought for that original $50 would bring me more happiness anyways, as my basic needs were already met. I know this is true because when I was decluttering my physical possessions earlier this year I hauled about 6 or 7 van loads of stuff to various charities. As I reflected upon these items when dropping them off I was shocked at how few of them actually were useful to me. How few of them actually improved my life in any way. All of the clothes that I never really wore, the books that I was going to read some day for the past 15 years, and all of the lightly used trinkets and gadgets that seemed like a perfectly sensible buy at the time. In retrospect, so few of them were actually worth it. I would have just been better off planting more trees full of freedom apples.

 

Now I’m not here to preach to you that physical possessions are bad and that we should all only own 6 articles of clothing, a titanium spork and MacBook air. In spite of my decluttering I still have lots stuff and I like the comfort and convenience it brings me, but consider planting your version of the apple tree instead of that 35th pair of sensible shoes -especially if you are not yet free. You probably don’t need more stuff, but you probably need more apple trees.

 

Now most of us wont go out and start planting after reading this. We will justify our actions by telling ourselves stories about why it won’t work, how it wont make that much of a difference, how it’s way too much effort to dig a hole, etc, but the biggest excuse of all – it’s too late to start. For some of us that’s true. If you are dying of terminal cancer, planting apple trees or saving for retirement is not one of your priorities, but we tell ourselves this narrative all throughout our lives even when it is not too late. The truth is we have to plant the seeds in the present of the life we want in the future. We can’t be lazy about this because if we are nothing ever changes, or if it does change it is someone else’s narrative.

 

In my medical school class there were a handful of my classmates who were were ‘old’ and by ‘old’ I mean in their 40’s (yeah. I’m old now too). I  thought they were crazy. How could you get a start on a career this grueling and you won’t even start working until you are like 50 or something? It just didn’t make sense to my 22ish year old brain. I realize now how young and stupid I was back then because it’s never too late to start something when you are investing in your happiness. It’s almost never too late to follow your dream or passion. It’s never too late to be thinking about creating more freedom in your life. They planted the seeds of the life they wanted.

 

Alright, this post is starting to go off the rails a little here. Back to the apples. Get off the internet and figure out how you can plant more apple trees in your life. A tree here and a tree there, before you know it you will have an orchard on your hands.

 


*I’m guessing this would also work with a pear or plum tree if you happen to hate apples…but who the heck hates apples anyways?

**My life is so far from deprivation it almost feels silly to call it frugality, yet some could not imagine living on so little. The article I link to describes this beautifully.

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  1. RocDoc

    Great post and great life advice. It’s time to plant more trees.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Thx Roc Doc.

  2. PhysicianOnFIRE

    My wife I spent the better part of our morning tearing out weeds and prickly bushes from around the apple and plum trees we planted a couple years ago. Too many roots competing with my trees for them to grow and prosper well. I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere. Weed more often would be one.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Hmmmm, there may be another blog post on that line of thought. Yard work is not my most favorite activity.

  3. Matt @ The Resume Gap

    Love the analogy. Each dollar can either buy something consumable now (like those sick designer jeans — free shipping, too!) or generate something valuable every year for decades to come.

    You could write a whole post on that second to last paragraph, too — it seems like many people get stuck in a mindset of “I’m too old to change paths now” when that’s such a limiting way to look at life. Maybe that’s true for my 94-year-old grandfather, but not for anyone still in their traditional working years.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Haha, I was waiting for someone to comment on those jeans! I’m thinking of buying 2 pair 😉

      To be honest the second to last paragraph I put in at the last minute, just kinda came to me after proofing a few times, but it somehow felt necessary to the post. You are right, it probably deserves one or more posts on its own. It is a trap I have found myself in many times, but also a pattern of thinking I have escaped from many times.

      It’s so easy to not do something, it’s so easy to make the excuse “if only I were younger…then I could change”. I see a lot of comments on blogs/forums along the lines of “yeah, so-and-so is doing something incredible, but they are 29, and I’m 46 so it’s too late for me…so I guess I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing”

  4. Preston @TheDrunkMillionaire

    Awesome post! We’ve planted so many fruit trees this year! If you intentionally plant good seeds now, you can reap the harvest later- great advice for food and finance!

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Thanks Preston, although I must say I’m a little jealous. I just have this one little tree and you have a whole orchard!

  5. Daniel Hough

    Growing your own apples isn’t creating jobs Happy Philosopher 😉

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      True, good thing job creation is not my primary goal.

      Although the money I save from having to buy apples is either saved, or spent on some other thing. The other thing I buy supports some other job (albeit not in the apple industry) so it is likely a wash. Also I did buy a tree, a shovel and some fertilizer which also supports jobs at some point right?

      …and even if I just saved the money it would allow me to retire just a bit earlier, in which case MY job would be available sooner to some poor starving radiologist looking for work.

      Therefore we can all plant trees and gardens of all types and not feel guilty!

      😉

      1. RocDoc

        I agree with The Hapoy Phillosopher. If his apples allow him to retire a little earlier, than he frees up a job for the next young doc. In fact you could look at all FIRE individuals as job creators since they’re leaving the work force after 10 to 20 years and that opens new jobs for the next guys.

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