They say the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Well, after several years of denial and inner-confusion I have come to realize that I have an odd sort of problem. Now that I know I have it I’m not entirely sure what do to about it. It vexes me because it’s part of me, I internalized it long ago. People who don’t suffer from one type of affliction or another often don’t understand why people struggle with such things. Skinny people who eat to live can’t figure out why fat people live to eat. People with no particular desire to gamble are baffled by the compulsion others have to do it. Souls at the mercy of a bottle of Jack Daniels are odd to people who don’t have any desire for a drink on Friday night. The problem I have may be just as elusive to understand as those just mentioned. My problem is the strange combination of ball pythons and money. It’s a multi-faceted problem with the ever-present “too much out, not enough in” issue riding on top of the heap. But the problem I’m writing ab out today is not how much money is coming or going; it’s about how the money goes after it comes.
Like many other reptile enthusiasts I live with the delusion that I will one day be solely employed as a reptile breeder and that I will be financially prosperous as a result. That dream and that day, however, are not yet here. I already work 40+ hours/week as a breeder but that’s only after my ‘real’ job is done. As I get closer and closer to my goal I wonder just how much my perspective will change when the only way I can pay my bills is by selling a snake. I suspect it will not always be a happy feeling, especially during times such as these when superfluous income is all but gone in the bank accounts of many Americans. People will always have to buy groceries, fuel and underwear, etc. They do not have to buy a new snake. I am living proof. Over the past year I have gone from buying multiple new snakes each month to one or two every other month. I notice it in my seemingly stalled collection and I am sure that the breeders to whom I have been a steady client (e.g. source of cash) have noticed it as well. Nobody is happy with the current state of affairs. Compounding the problem are the recession-proof bellies of my snakes; they eat as much today as they did a few years ago when money was more readily available. I endure this, of course. Snakes not properly fed are as valuable as having no snakes at all. Some things simply cannot be set aside.
But buying hundreds of rodents each week is not a problem for me. I enjoy feeding my animals and, while expensive, I don’t mind the cost in the long run. Considering the return you get in the form of babies you do quite nicely on the dollars that go down the throat of a snake. Again, I am fortunate that I have another full-time job that can help offset any cost overruns that arise. What’s more, feeding my snakes is often therapeutic. I am mentally at ease after a day of good feeding. Cage-after-cage, thump-after-thump I can feel the stresses of my life falling away.
The money that goes out to make my reptile collection better is almost effortless to spend (inasmuch as money can be easy to spend, that is). Buying rodents, water bowls, paper towels, soap, cypress mulch, plastic tubs, etc. is relatively easy money to say goodbye to. I see all of it as an investment that will pay itself back in the near future. Paper towels to clean poop? No problem. That translates to healthier snakes. Healthier snakes help to make baby snakes and baby snakes are how I make money. Cypress mulch? Not a problem. It’s a more natural bedding and my animals do very well on it. They feed better and it’s easy to clean. Clean cages and solid-feeding snakes means better breeding results. Better breeding results means more baby snakes. If you can name a reptile supply/necessity I can quickly tell you how I justify it as an investment in making the business better. I am at peace with the money spent. This, however, is not always the case. And this brings us back around to my problem.
In my ‘real’ job I go to work for two weeks and, “Poof!”, a paycheck appears. That money only represents the last two weeks of my life and that is not a sizable investment in the form of time. Because I do not have a lot of time invested in making that money it is easier (mentally) to spend. I often apply a simple but far from foolproof measure to determine value when spending money: Do I get more time out of the money when I spend it than it took me to make it? For instance, if I make $50/hour I often ask myself if the $50 that I am about to spend is going to translate into more than one hour in return. Going to a movie costs $10 and lasts 2 hours. That has the potential for good value. It’s not an exact science. Shawshank Redemption: excellent value. G.I. Joe – Rise of Cobra: not good value. Life is full of gambles. Another example is when I pay my mortgage. Spending that money grants me my home for another 30 days but it takes less than 1/2 that time to make that money. Again, my simple criteria for value is met. The whole perspective is terribly unscientific and easily picked apart, I know, but it is only one of my most basic measures of value. At $50/hour it takes me about 8 hours to make $250 (assuming a 35% tax rate). For me to go to the grocery store and spend that $250 on groceries that will sustain my family for the next several days is a reasonable price to pay. But what happens when that $250 is money from the sale of a ball python? Things change for me in a hurry. And this is my problem. When I look at a baby ball python I see it, like all money I make, in the form of hours of work. How long did I have to work to make that snake? In the most simple scenario it is not less than 9-12 months, from the end of one breeding season to the hatching of the eggs from the next. Taking $250 from the sale of a ball python and blowing it on groceries that will only last a few days breaks my equation. The groceries no longer have value when using this ‘snake money’. I need the money from the sale of a ball python to last …a long time. In my head I need those $250 to be spent on something that will last as long or longer than it took me to make it. As a result, spending snake money on daily expenses breaks my rule on the value of money spent. How do you make $250 from a snake sale last 10 months or longer? Buy something tangible, of course.
If I can’t shake my definition of value, I’m doomed. I don’t stand a chance as a full-time reptile breeder with no other source of income if I can’t bring myself to spend this so-called snake money on the trivial daily expenses that come about. What makes this problem even more unexplainable is that I know that my system is flawed. I didn’t spend the past 10 months producing one $250 snake. I produced hundreds of snakes in that time. I should be looking at their combined value rather than their individual value. If I produce 300 babies at an average price of $500 each (a guess) that means it took me 9 months to make $150,000. I don’t make that much in 10 months at the thing I call my real job so why do I find that money so much easier to spend on the necessities of life? In short, I don’t really know. I just do. That’s where my logic is broken.
Writing all of this is an effort at self-treatment, my own self-help manual written by me. Stay posted for the day that I tell you that I’m a full-time snake breeder. When that day comes you’ll know I’m cured.