Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Sign of the Times

I don't shop much.  I developed a real aversion to shopping when I was a single mother living at the very edge of my means or beyond.  Time spent at the mall seemed to bring out bitterness and anger that I wanted to keep in check - so I just quit going there.  Since then, I have narrowed my habits to the point where I visit only a handful of stores on a regular basis.  Lately though, I've had occasion to go to a bunch of stores and I feel a little bit like a tourist.

One thing has caught my eye that I think is clearly a sign of the times.  In every store there are piggy banks of every conceivable shape and size. Big piggies, little piggies, pastel piggies and bold piggies.  Piggies with polka dots, stripes and the logo of every major league team and most of the popular college teams.   There are piggy banks for kids, and piggy banks clearly for adults.  And there are lots of other kinds of banks too - the ones that keep a running total of your deposits with an electronic display.  The ones that will sort your change for easy rolling.  Banks that talk to you when you put money in them.  It's phenomenal.  And telling.

If I were actually a tourist, I might interpret this as a sign of American self-reliance; that America is so rich because even its children are taught to save for a rainy day from a very early age. In reality, it is a clear indication of the current economic conditions.  For me, it is also nostalgic. I had several piggy banks during my childhood years.  The most favored one wasn't a pig at all, but rather a spaniel that bore a striking resemblance to my Grandpa's dog Frisky.  And that bank came from my Grandpa, who I believe got it free from some bank vying for his business.  Does this mean we will start getting toasters for opening accounts again?  I'm guessing my twenty-something readers don't even know what I'm talking about here.

People who came through the depression knew the true value of a dime.  And we are beginning to realize it too. Money is a tool. Everyone knows the value of a good tool: writers like certain kinds of pens, gardeners like certain kinds of rakes, cooks like certain kinds of knives.  I wonder if we quit seeing money as a tool when we quit seeing money and started swiping cards for everything.  It would appear that money is real again, in the eyes of the American shopper anyway.

These piggy banks give me a flutter of hope.  People are figuring out what they need to teach their kids about money.  And, they are teaching them to wait for what they want.  And that, in the end, is the truest value of a piggy bank.  Learning to wait for what you want.  Learning to work toward it, one dime at a time. Because anything that is worth having requires this.  Getting an education requires mastering one thing at a time.  Growing a garden requires waiting for the produce to ripen.  Raising competent children requires daily  investments of time and love. Life is not like the lottery - it's like the piggy bank - and children who learn this are way ahead when they reach adulthood.

No comments: