Breaking the Bank

My mother's next door neighbors have two children, kids who were tiny when they moved in, and have now, as is the way of children, grown into large, rambunctious teenagers.  They're a nice family, though, and my mom has fond memories of summer evenings when they would tumble around in her backyard, or sit on her patio coloring and devour the homemade cookies or cupcakes she kept on hand for them. imagesWhen Ashleigh, the eldest, turned 16 a few years ago, my mother bought her a cute ceramic piggy bank and put 16 crisp, new one-dollar bills in it.  Travis, the younger boy, is set to celebrate his 16th birthday this weekend, and she wanted to give him the same gift.

Trouble is, we can't find a piggy bank.

"Piggy bank?" asked the clerk at K-Mart, barely more than a teenager himself, with an interesting tatoo on his inner arm and a very dangerous looking spike in his left ear.   "Uh, no, we ain't got those."

"Piggy bank..." said the older lady stocking the shelves at  Dollar General.  "You know, I haven't seen one of those in ages."

I had a couple of piggy banks, a dark blue one I particularly remember because it was painted with bright pink flowers.  I think my uncle brought it to me from was distinctly un-porcine in appearance.  The nicest feature about it was the rubber stopper on the underside, so that making periodic withdrawals was quite easy.  The other one was made of glass, and the only way to get the money out was to smash it.  (I never used that one.)

But I did stuff money into the piggy bank every week - I got an allowance in those days, I think 50 cents or a dollar per week, and I always put some of that money into the piggy bank.   Saving money was kind of fun, actually, and I was encouraged to save up for things that I wanted.  I admit that my parents usually gave in and "helped" me finance the purchase price (I was an impatient little consumer), but at least they urged me to make an effort toward saving.

Apparently (and now I'm going to sound like a old fart) children are not taught to save money these days.  At least, they're not putting it into piggy banks.  Maybe all kids have brokerage accounts - to go along with their cell phones and computers.  Maybe they have ATM cards, and can withdraw money from one of the kazillions of machines located in every place from the library to the laundromat.  Maybe they just charge their comic books and bubble gum graphic novels and granola bars. 

My father in law lived through the Great Depression, and never tired of telling us how he went to his bank one morning and saw a closed sign on the door.  His entire savings - money he intended to purchase his own farm - gone in the blink of an eye.  Naturally, he was paranoid about money forever after.  He kept emergency stashes of cash in his own version of piggy banks - steel boxes hidden in the rafters and buried in the cellar.  He even had a suitcase filled with cash  shoved under the bed and chained to the bedframe. 

The idea of money has become so nebulous to appears on gift cards and debit cards and electronic transfer, but rarely as greenbacks or silver in the palm of your hand.  The concrete exchange of money for services rendered is all but obsolete. We pay for everything from gasoline to major surgery with a quick swipe of a card through an electronic reader.   So the direct line from work to compensation to purchase gets very blurry, creating a disconnect in the process which leads to very poor money management skills.  Hence, a generation of people who are drowning in debt.

And all because you can't buy a piggy bank.

So Travis won't be getting his 16 shiny new dollars in a piggy bank.  My mom ended up getting a tiny red sand pail instead, which she stuffed with confetti, candy, and the 16 dollar bills.  I'm sure he won't mind not getting the piggy bank, for he's liable to head straight to i-Tunes or Best Buy with his birthday loot. 

Unless he stashes it in a suitcase under the bed.