Learning to Save | What I Learned At 7 Year’s of Age

I have had periods in life when I was a more ardent saver or investor than I am now.   I am a strong proponent of automatic savings or investing (I do understand the difference).  One friend named John Mark Hansen got me involved in mutual fund investing in the 90s (when it seemed like everything went up).

But the experience I recall about my first savings effort was from when I was 7 years old.  My father was going to a conference in San Francisco, and he took the whole family.  My sister was in high school and I was in second grade.

Dad gave us enough lead time (3 months or so) for my sister to cook up a savings scheme.  We had a goal of saving $100.00.  That doesn’t seem like much money in 2012, but in the late 60s that was a small fortune (especially for kids).

My sister had baby sitting jobs that gave her access to a few dollars each time she got to babysit.

For me, however, it was a different story.  I was 7 years old.  It wasn’t like I had a steady job at that point.

We had a goal.  We had one means to save money (my sister’s work), and then there was me.

I did of course have a means to save a bit of money, but it required help from my comrade in savings:  I had school lunch money.

Everyday my parents gave me 35 cents (which was the cost of lunch at the elementary school I attended).  And everyday I could contribute that much money.

What we did, without my parents knowing it (in fact, I am not sure we ever told them; I am fairly certain my dad would not have been pleased), was for my sister to secretly make me a lunch to take to school.    I would then put my 35 cents in to the savings.

We did this for 3 months.  I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (I am a little amazed my mom didn’t wonder where all the bread and peanut butter and jelly went).

The week before we were to fly to SFO we did our count, and we had done it!   Actually, we had saved $105!  A fortune!

I guess I should tell you that the goal for this hard worked for loot was to have funds for buying souvenirs.  Shocking frivolity.  But lessons were learned.

Lessons For Saving

1.  Have a goal in mind.  When you save for a specific goal, you have built in motivators.  Each small step toward the goal reinforces the motivation.

2. Assess your resources.  My sister’s baby sitting jobs were more lucrative, but they didn’t happen daily.  My lunch money was much less, but a real resource.

3.  Find accountability.  For my sister and I, accountability was each other.  We worked toward the goal together.  While you may not have someone to actually pool money with, it is still beneficial to have accountability in working toward the goal.

4.  Be creative.  Making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches allowed us to put my 35 cents a day in to the resource pool.  What creative means do you have for generating extra funds toward your goal?  A side job?  A garage sale?  Items for a consignment store?  Be creative!

5.  Don’t get discouraged.  If you have a big goal that is 3 years away, don’t expect to see significant progress in toward that whole goal in the first week.  It will take longer.

6.  Celebrate when you meet the goal!  For a teenager and a 7 year old saving $100 was a huge deal.  We were pleased with ourselves.  And in truth, in the 60s, that was a very big goal (a BHAG).

What about you?  Do you set goals for savings or investing?  What story can you tell about reaching the goal?  Leave a comment below!

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by Thad on April 3, 2012 · 19 comments

tagged as , , , in hacks

  • http://moneyandrisk.com Kim @Money and Risk


    Great story. It’s much easier to build good habits from childhood. That was a lot of money to save during the 60s.

  • http://www.frugalconfessions.com Amanda L Grossman

    I like that your parents challenged you to this. I think they must have known though…

    • http://www.thadthoughts.com Thad

      Amanda, I am not sure they challenged us…I have recollections of my sister being the brains behind the idea. But, yeah, I guess my folks had to have known.

  • http://dqydj.net PK

    Haha, sneaky yet effective. The truth is savings is more effective when you’re younger – witness all of the “if you save x at age 25 for ten years, you would have as much as someone saving y at 45 for 20 years!” examples you get. It’s a marathon, not a sprint! (And other great platitudes!)

    • http://www.thadthoughts.com Thad

      It is so much more effective if learned and practiced when you are young.

  • http://www.stepawayfromthemall.com Nick

    Very creative at 7 years old for sure! I used to buy stuff in packs, break them up and sell them for profit. I did it with candy, mostly, buying candy by the pound and selling it to kids for 25 cents a piece or something. Made a few bucks that way, haha.

    • http://www.thadthoughts.com Thad

      Nick you were creative! I had a sister 10 years older as enforcer!

  • http://blog.moneytrail.net Pam at MoneyTrail

    I love this story! It is amazing how we remember certain things from our childhood. And…the lessons learned from childhood can stay with us for a lifetime.

    I don’t remember my brother and I working for any money related goals together. He saved his money for fishing equipment. I, on the other hand, spent every dime I had on candy and bubble gum. I was a dentist’s nightmare!

    • http://www.thadthoughts.com Thad

      You may have been the dentist’s favorite patient!

  • http://blog.familymoneyvalues.com Marie at FamilyMoneyValues

    I love the lessons you drew out of the experience. Do you and your sister continue to have common savings goals?

    Sorry I’ve been MIA on commenting the past few weeks, I lost connectivity and have had some other issues with which to deal.

    • http://www.thadthoughts.com Thad

      No, my sister and I only shared that goal, and it was 44 years ago! Our spouses probably wouldn’t be happy if we tried to save for things now!

      Sorry to hear about your internet woes. Glad to see you back!

  • http://www.mastertheartofsaving.com Jen @ Master the Art of Saving

    Brother and sister working together to save, that’s just adorable. Taking your lunches to school to save the lunch money was a really good idea, especially when you don’t have any other access to money. :-)

    • http://www.thadthoughts.com Thad

      Probably when I learned to love PB&J.

  • http://www.joyfulselfmanager.com Anthony Thompson

    This is such a charming little children’s story. It’s beautiful how you and your sister joined forces, and pooled your resources together to selflessly reach your joint goal. And, at seven years old you made the very big sacrifice of investing your small lunch money fund, and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch (that your sister regularly prepared for you). The best part is what the experience taught you (and your sister). You learned the importance of deferred gratification, persistence, determination, and risk-taking (making the sandwiches knowing that your father wouldn’t approve). Great post!

  • http://www.aftercollegemoney.com After College Money

    Cool story, Thad. This reminds me of when I was saving up money as a kid. Instead of a piggy bank, I had a glass Coke bottle. The opening of the Coke bottle was so small that it only fit dimes. So, I filled the Coke bottle with dimes, and only dimes. When it was filled up, it was worth about $60!

    Hey, but at least you know where you spent your savings. I have no clue where that $60 went, I probably bought something silly like the latest video game.

  • http://www.mymoneydesign.com MyMoneyDesign

    So the moral of the story is to steal from our parents ? – Just kidding :)

    Seriously, I was like you where I learned about goal setting and savings at a young age. I was given an allowance for my chores, and each week the dollars were divided among envelopes for different toys I wanted. Once I reached my goal, I was able to get the Lego set or VHS movie I had been saving for. It was simple and effective, but it also is a lesson I still continue to practice today with my retirement planning.

    • http://www.thadthoughts.com Thad

      I don’t think I ever thought of it that way!

  • http://www.add-vodka.com Daisy

    That’s such a fun story! My brother and I did something like that for a trampoline when we were kids. We ended up saving $300, although I don’t think it was that much and I’m pretty sure my mom just pitched in some money and called it a day.

    • http://www.thadthoughts.com Thad

      I learned a lot. That was the first time I saved for anything (that I can remember). Had a few things in junior high school that I saved for, and then in high school. But by high school I had a job and it was easier to save for things I wanted.

      What I wish I had done was invest $1,000 per year in my 20s. That would have had a large impact on future retirement assets.

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