Sunday, April 09, 2006

Breaking the (piggy) bank

“Moe mondey, MOE MONDEY!” Ittybit chants as I break another cardinal rule of parenthood by handing her a “choke-able” and telling her to go play.

She’s only two, but already she knows how to swipe a credit card, hand cash to the cashier at the grocery store and put quarters into the family “piggy” bank (actually an enormous Coke bottle) for safekeeping.

She becomes vexed when the Eisenhower dollar her papa gave her won’t fit through the slot. “Go in there. Go in there. Go in there,” she instructs the coin, as if the emphasis on the right word will be the magic that makes it fit.
When the enormous silver dollar won’t listen, she asks me to make it a bank of its own.

Scrounging a bit, I find an empty diaper wipes box and some stickers for decoration, and in seconds we have a new repository, not to mention one very satisfying “plunk” sound.

If genetics has any role in financial acumen, I am praying that Ittybit will take after her “Amah.” I have nothing but hope that my mother, who loads her up with dollar bills (that probably have gone through the washer and dryer several times to ensure cleanliness), will also instill in our tiny tot some of the secrets of her saving ways. Lessons, I might add, which have been almost entirely lost on yours truly.

If you’ve never met anyone with the Midas touch before, you should park a chair next to my mom and sit for a while. She has the gift.

By the time she was my age — on a nurse’s salary — she had already helped her parents buy a house, her brother a car and established a healthy savings for her own growing family. During the course my youth, she and my father even salted away enough money to put both me and my sister through college.

Such fiscal diligence has its price, though.

Every now and again my mother asks me if I remember our Christmases, and how our piles compared with our friends’ piles. I know what she really wants to know is whether we were disappointed.

In terms of quantity, our celebrations were more subdued but I’m fairly confident neither my sister nor I ever felt any real inequity. Quite the contrary, in fact, we felt rich beyond belief. We had everything we wanted and even things we didn’t need. We felt lucky.

But it really wasn’t luck at all. It was skill. It was being able to decipher need from want. It was being able to hold off on gratification long enough to make a choice that was based on more than impulse. It was taking money out of the equation almost entirely. “This isn’t about the money. It’s about you. Things aren’t going to change you.”

I’m embarrassed to say it, but money still burns a hole in my pockets. At the end of any given work week my cash reserve is usually long gone. Although I’ve gotten a little better at saving (thanks to automatic banking) I could still use the kind of discipline my mother has and my daughter is practicing.

Come Thursday, as I’m scrounging for quarters on the bottom of by bag, Ittybit toddles over and hands me her purse. Inside are three crisp dollar bills.

“Hey, can I borrow this until payday?”

“Sure mommy, sure.”

1 comment:

Be Still said...

What a wonderful personal story. In our culture, money seems to be tied to our perceptions of ourselves so tightly, doesn't it?

I struggle mightily with the pull of material things, hence my blog. I use it to satisfy my gatherer nature without spending a dime.

BTW, my mom's a nurse too but has no where near the money discipline that yours does.