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By Millie Jackson
One of the items I remember most vividly from my childhood is my mother’s dime bank. It was a gold cylinder with a slot for dimes at the top and holes to indicate how many dimes were in the bank. The bottom twisted off and the dimes fell out. The bank would float around the house, sometimes on the window ledge, sometimes on a bookcase, and often in my mother’s purse if she knew she might need dimes for the pay phone or the bus. When it was full, the bank held five dollars, but it was rarely full.
My mother saved loose change all the time. One of her favorite sayings was, “save your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.” When I realized how many pennies made up a dollar, this saying began to annoy me. How would I ever get dollars?
But I learned that little bits of change and diligence would lead to larger amounts over time.
When I was growing up, I didn’t think about these habits that much. They were just part of who my mother was– tucking away loose change, saving small bits of money when she could. She always started a Christmas Club in January and taught me to do the same so there was money for gifts. A few dollars every few weeks added up come November when the bank sent a check. We didn’t talk about money directly and never talked about money outside the family, but it was always a specter in the air. My father worked and my mother stayed home after their first child was born so our family of five lived on my father’s salary. I didn’t know the amounts until I was older and began to balance the checkbooks and pay the bills when they were both ill. We always had what we needed even if we didn’t have the extras or the extravagances.
My parents were products of the Great Depression of 1929, rationing in WWII, and a local bank failure that took their savings. My dad never trusted banks much after that and favored keeping money in a box under the bed. My mother did trust the banks, however, and saved what she could for a rainy day. I learned that saving was important by watching her. My parents rarely used what they called charge plates, instead paying with cash even for things like cars. If they did not have the cash saved, then they did not buy it. They were willing to wait for what they wanted most.
These lessons have remained with me, even if I didn’t always follow them as diligently as I could have. I didn’t wait to do the things I really wanted to do in life. I took many of the trips I wanted to take and pursued things that I thought would make my life richer.
During the pandemic I was able to pay off my outstanding debts. I realized that I didn’t need as much as I thought I needed based on the messages of society. When I sat down and assessed what I had saved over the years, bit by bit, I had enough to retire last spring or to at least take a break for a year until I figure out what’s next.
The dime bank surfaces in my possessions every so often. It doesn’t have any dimes in it these days, but it reminds me of the lessons I learned from my mother. Save for the rainy day and for what you want most. Eventually you will have enough to make your dream come true and it will be worth waiting for.
Millie Jackson is a writer, creative, and storyteller. She lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.