How Personal Finance is Like a Fish Tank

This is a guest post from my friend Lance at Money Life & More. He is a mid-twenties financial professional who writes about personal finance and life in general. Check out this fantastic post, then go visit his site!

After reading Andrea’s post about how being a T-Rex would help her finances, I realized that personal finance can relate to a bunch of things most people would never think of. Right next to where I blog is a fish tank, and believe it or not a fish tank has a lot in common with personal finance!

Fish Tanks Are Tricky

Fish tanks require a lot of maintenance and care or they’ll get out of balance. You have to make sure the water is properly balanced. The water has to have the right pH and not too much ammonia. You have to make sure to perform regular water changes and make sure the new water is conditioned the same as the tank water. You have to keep the tank at the right temperature for your fish. If these things get too out of whack all of the fish in your tank can die. Trust me I know. Our water where I live is horrible and we’ve been through many batches of fish and only the most hardy survive.

Finances Are Tricky Too!

Your finances have a lot of the same qualities as a fish tank. You have to keep your finances in balance to be financially successful. You want to make sure that what you spend is less than you earn, or your finances will get out of whack just like the fish tank. Now spending more than you earn will not kill you like bad water kills fish. Well… unless you borrow money from the Mafia… but that is a story for another day. It will, however, seriously harm your future self as you will be headed into debt. Andrea knows firsthand that unnecessary debt is a bad thing.

By going into debt you are sacrificing your future income to pay that debt back. In addition to the money that you originally borrowed you will also owe interest on that money. That means you’ll sacrifice not just the original amount you spent. You’ll sacrifice even more. See how this turns into a vicious cycle? You are already spending more than you earn and now in order to pay your debt back you have to pay even more money than you originally spent to get rid of your debt. You’ll be going further and further into debt all of the time unless you get your fish tank (…I mean spending) in balance.

Don’t Kill Any More Fish… Please

Now that we know that spending more than you earn is like killing fish I think we can agree that we don’t want any more fish to suffer. The first thing to do is figure out how much money you have available every month. Add up all of your paychecks and other sources of income figure out how much money you bring in during a normal month.

Next we need to work on spending. Write down every single thing you spend money on during a month. I don’t care if you spend money with cash, a check, a credit or debit card or some other form of payment related to money (you can pay everything in pennies for all I care). Your goal is to make sure that what you spend in any given month is less than the amount of money you earned in a month. If it isn’t keep working and try to make sure you don’t kill anymore fish.

You Can Balance Your Fish Tank (And Finances)

Once you finally get your spending below your income, you can begin putting the extra money toward paying off debt or starting an emergency fund. Just make sure that you keep track of how you’re doing - if you don’t, your fish tank will start growing algae again and your debt will start going back up. Please don’t kill the fish.

After you get your finances balanced, you might want to know what net worth is and how to calculate it.

No fish were harmed while writing this post. Unfortunately I can’t say the same about the last few months. My water stinks but it wasn’t intentional, I promise.

What else do you think can relate to personal finance? I’d love to hear your ideas. Who knows, I might write another guest post about it!

Andrea’s note: I’m definitely a firm believer that personal finance can be related to anything (as evidenced by my past posts about cross dressing, fairy tales, super heroes, and dinosaurs, to name a few). Lance’s comparison of PF to a fish tank is spot on - once your ecosystem is in place and stable, you just have to maintain it. But until you get to that point of equilibrium, one misstep could kill all your fish! I’d be interested to know how your financial fish tank is doing - can it sustain life, or is it just a matter of time until the tank is gathering dust in a corner somewhere?

16 Responses to “How Personal Finance is Like a Fish Tank”

  1. Lance@MoneyLife&More says:

    Thanks for hosting my post! I'll be checking in as often as I can to reply to comments today!

  2. Even Cheap says:

    I never looked at my finances as being similar to a fish tank. I love it! I think my financial fish tank can sustain life. I guess we'll see as the furture unfolds.

  3. bluecollarworkman says:

    Ha! Hilarious. And I love Finding Nemo (probably because my girls watch it ALL THE TIME) so this was even better. There is a careful balance, you're absolutely right, and when one thing gets out of whack, everything can go down the chute.

  4. lkrant says:

    Personal finance are alll those things and more. I think it takes a conscious effort to succeed in any thing you do. That means you have to take control of your finances by spending less than you earn. If you overspend, you need to compensate for that to reduce debt.

  5. bogofdebt says:

    I loved this! And yes-finances can be compared to almost anything :) I compared getting out of debt to cleaning up my kitchen once.

  6. Brent Pittman says:

    Great analogy! I think I need to clean my filter from time to time…don't forget sometimes you need to consult a fish tank expert because you're lost or have messed up so bad. Keep the fish alive! Great job.

    • Lance@MoneyLife&More says:

      We have definitely consulted Petsmart expert and they have no clue… Once our fish die off this time we're ditching the fish tank. We won't ditch our financial fish tank though.

  7. DontDebt says:

    Awesome analogy! I lived for too many years at risk of one thing killing all my fish! Except for the ugly wage garnishment issue of late, I've been quite comfortable in the maintaining stage for several months now. The more thought I give to budgeting and paying off debt, the easier it is to stay ahead.

    By the way - no wage garnishment for me! My payroll department was notified just in the nick of time.

  8. shopping2saving says:

    Hahah I totally remember me and BF almost getting fish… that needed a salt water fish tank. We got SO overwhelmed with how much everything costed, and the upkeep that we decided it was a no go. We ended up with a dog, but I would much rather have a dog to pet and hold than fishes I just stare at. If I had enough money, I would love a nice aquarium, but for now, the dog keeps me busy (and broke).

    • Lance@MoneyLife&More says:

      Saltwater tanks are crazy. We can't even get a freshwater tank right. Luckily our finances are a different situation.

  9. @thefrugaltoad says:

    Funny you should mention fish tanks, I am in the process of shutting down a freshwater tank. The fish tank analogy applies to more than finances. If you don't take care of something it can't reach it's potential!

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