Keep Climbing, Crab


When crabs get caught by crab fisherman, they’re tossed in a bucket. The bucket almost always has no lid on it. Why is this? It turns out the lid isn’t necessary because collectively the crabs in the bucket will pull down any crab that tries to climb out. And if one crab makes too many attempts to escape, he risks having his limbs torn off by his peers.


But this behavior isn’t limited to crabs. This is an eerily accurate analogy of what happens when one decides to make radical financial changes in their life.

The “bucket” we live in is simply our everyday life and all the other crabs are the people we interact with on a regular basis – our family, friends, and coworkers. Most of the crabs have debt, own spacious houses, drive new cars, and dine out regularly. As long as we adhere to the norms of the bucket lifestyle, we’re at no risk of having our life questioned by our fellow crabs. 

But the moment we start making decisions to reduce our spending, pay off our debt, and start climbing out of the bucket of normal living, our peers voice their concerns. If our decisions are extreme enough, our fellow crabs may even show their claws.

Why are you selling your television? Are you seriously cutting your cable?

You’re downsizing your house? Something must be wrong.

Why are you packing your lunch now? Don’t you miss our regular $20 sushi lunches?

Here’s the thing about making radical financial changes in your life:

Taking action to improve your financial situation is often simple, but justifying your actions to your peer group is intimidating.

In fact, the prospect of changing one’s lifestyle can be so fear-inducing that it prevents most people from ever making the change. Selling your TV and cutting your cable is not scary. What’s scary is explaining to everyone you know why you’re making this decision.

The paradox of this situation is that many of our peers actually do have good intentions when they question our lifestyle choices. Our parents repeatedly ask if we’re sure about a decision because they care. They’re worried our unconventional way of living will make us unhappy. Our close friends typically have our best interest in mind. People that care about us will always try to give us advice and nudge us in a certain direction because from their perspective it makes sense to do so. They’ll encourage us to remain in the bucket because they view the bucket lifestyle as the best way to live.

Despite these good intentions from our fellow crabs, we still have to follow our gut and make the climb. This is a climb to get out of debt, consumerism, and financial stress. Unfortunately all these things are normal in the bucket. Most people are strapped with debt and have very little savings and very little freedom. Naturally the only way to break these norms and make the climb out of the bucket is to make choices that appear radical to our peers.

But at the end of the day, the people who truly care about us will still be there for us despite our way of living. It’s like the old saying “The ones that matter don’t care. And the ones that care don’t matter.” Knowing this truth makes it easier to make radical financial changes. Despite downsizing your house, selling your car, or cutting your cable, the people who truly care about you will still be there.

Be prepared for resistance when you decide to climb out of the bucket. You’ll be faced with worries, concerns, and perhaps criticisms. But don’t let that stop you. Keep climbing, crab.

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26 Replies to “Keep Climbing, Crab”

  1. Another great one, Zach. I’ve seen that phenomenon for many years, and was guilty of the crab behavior myself. Your perspectives Can benefit anyone, but I always share your posts with my millennial friends, nieces and nephews and hope they foliow your lead.

  2. You know, this is one of the reasons I practice stealth wealth. Even with advice I’m very selective with whom I go to. I don’t need their validation, but I also don’t care to argue about it.

    1. I feel the same way. If people come to me asking for advice I’m more than happy to offer help, but I no longer go out of my way to share my thoughts on personal finance with people who don’t ask. It’s just easier this way for everyone.

  3. Good analogy. You gotta keep climbing if you want to reach freedom! And that means sacrificing on things, but later finding out it wasn’t really even a sacrifice 🙂

    1. I love that phrase “And that means sacrificing on things, but later finding out it wasn’t really a sacrifice”. I think this is so true – the things we think we can’t live without actually are quite easy to live without once we give it a try. And what we perceive to be “sacrifices” actually aren’t sacrifices at all when we see the freedom we gain as a result. Thanks for the feedback! 🙂

  4. Zach, great post. “Financial Shaming” is real. From cutting back on unnecessary expenses/purchases to your investment/savings decisions, insecure people will always judge. Why? Because they can’t or don’t have.

    Lesson here: Eat more crab.

  5. Ahh, the classic collision of seeking validation and crushing that which is different. The funny thing is that the seeking validation starts to go away at a certain age, which differs from person to person, and when it does it is SO liberating. You have to make that climb, approach things differently if you want to get a different result, and remembering this analogy is crucial. Thanks for sharing it!

    1. I think discovering that you no longer need to have your decisions validated by others is SO important in terms of getting a grip on your finances. It’s a topic I’ve written about before – escaping the comparison game between yourself and others is possibly the biggest hurdle preventing most people from achieving true financial independence. Once you jump over this hurdle, everything else falls into place. Thanks for the feedback 🙂

  6. Zach, great analogy. Like Full Time Finance, I practice Stealth Wealth, and have decided that I really don’t give a damn what the other crabs in my bucket think. Don’t let Peer Pressure dampen your dreams.

    Keep climbing, crab (best line of the post).

    1. Stealth wealth is such a useful tool to have in your financial toolbox. I’m slowly learning the benefits of it myself. Kudos to you for kicking peer pressure in the face, and thanks for the feedback as always 🙂

  7. Great post Zach! I think it’s an important lesson to learn not worry what other people think of you and your plans. Hopefully my son learns this quicker than I have!

    1. Not worrying about what other people think of me is one of the best habits I think I’ve ever developed…I encourage other young people to learn this skill as early as possible too! It’s a life changer. Thanks for the feedback 🙂

  8. Holy Crap! I’m a crab on a stick! 🙂

    What’s great though is if you say ‘No’ enough people will stop asking. It doesn’t take long for people to not ask you to go out to lunch at work. Eventually you will get the “open invitation.” It is nice to go out once in a while.

    Also, i think people are just used to me doing things differently they don’t even bother asking why 😀

    1. I have a very similar situation, eventually people pick up on my spending habits over time and just accept them for what they are. I’m absolutely not opposed to going out to eat, but I don’t do it nearly as regularly as most people I work with and they are completely okay with that at this point. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  9. This hits home for me! It can be so hard to mentally combat the fact that we CAN afford that dinner/item/vacation/etc when others are encouraging it or inviting us along. Mr. AR and I constantly have to remind ourselves of our goal and keep climbing through the noise. Thanks for the post!

    1. Reminding yourself of the end goal and your reason for saving is a tactic I also use to keep my spending low. Of course I go out from time to time but I try to maximize each dollar I use to get the most value of the money I do spend. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  10. Great analogy and there is some serious truth in this article, that’s for sure. Typically, from my experience, if something is different, people will laugh and look down at you. People need to learn to be supportive, even if they don’t agree. If somebody wants to make themselves better, than you have no business getting in their way.

    Thanks for the read tonight!


    1. I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s a shame people feel the need to pull others down, but that’s simply how it is. From my experience, the more differently I do things, the more people around me voice their concerns but I’m used to it by now because I know where I’m headed and it doesn’t bother me anymore. Thanks for the feedback 🙂

  11. This is such an interesting analogy! Apart from radical financial changes, we humans really are like crabs in a lot of other aspects also, clawing the outlier back to normality.

    Short and crisp, this made for an interesting thought-provoking read.

  12. Hi Zach
    Great, motivating post and so true. Love that metaphor you use. Each of us has experienced that sort of resistance of our social environment we have to overcome if we want to break free.

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