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 Mexico…it 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.


12 thoughts on “Breaking the Bank

  1. Hi Becca,

    You might remember me from a while back (both visitors at Sandi’s blog). Anyway– WOW. No more piggy banks? I fondly remember mine. It hardly had money in it, but still.

    I might sound like an old fart too, but I just assumed piggy banks would always be a staple of any childhood. I guess they’ve gone the way of rotary phones, VCR’s and 2 dollar bills. (Remember those!) Makes me sort of nostalgic.

  2. Haha! Piggy Banks! You are an old fart! I find them in $2 shops here in NZ or you can go to some banks who have them except they’re very boring – a plastic square with the bank logo and colour on it. Absolutely boring and they’re usually one-offs!
    Have a great weekend.

  3. What an excellent post. Very good food for thought about how money has come to be perceived by the younger generations. I grew up with a piggy bank, too. My great Aunt, who was into ceramics, made it for me. I saved pennies in it, and I have it to this day. 🙂 And yup, I still drop pennies into it, haha!

    Thanks for visiting my blog today — I’m happy to meet you!

  4. Becca, did you ever check at gift shops? You know, the ones where they sell posters, funny mugs, and all kinds of other silly, useless gifts? Not saying that piggy banks are useless… 😉

  5. I had a piggy bank, my kids had piggy bank: I had no idea they would be hard to find now! How sad.
    Once my kids became working teens, they did get the savings and checking account with the debit card. Ahhh, one has to move with the times, I suppose. I do follow my parents rules, however, half in savings, half to spend. So far, it works!
    I can definitely relate to the great depression – my grandparents kept the pantry in the basement stocked with canned goods and my grandmas glass jars of sill pickles and red pickled beets and onions. They recycled long before it was popular, winding balls of string and rubber bands, and tying up stacks of newspaper to take to the recycle man on Saturday. I always got a few cents from the take!

  6. Excellent post, and an excellent point, too. Until you mentioned it, I hadn’t noticed the lack of piggy banks. Sure have noticed the increase in casinos, though…

  7. Can you hear my sing-song — “I am an old fart! I am an old fart!”

    I have three active piggy banks these days. The cow (a gift from England) when filled with quarters brings in a good $87 and the cat family (a Christmas gift from another friend) probably does about the same (though that’s all silvery stuff, no distinctions!) This past Christmas (or post-Christmas) at Pier One I found a wonderful bright green pig with a great bottom-stopper and pretty flowers painted on him. For $3! I bought him for a gift and started filling him up. I love banks!
    (Have you noticed the 5/3 Bank ATMS are named after me? Well, not literally, but my friends all think so!)

  8. I had a piggy bank too. I loved it. It was a cream color with a pink bow, and I used to put money in it. I also had one of those that had to be broken to retrieve the loot.
    I love how you can make even a piggy bank relevant, Becca.

  9. Hmmm? I’m still seeing lots of piggy banks in my shopping travels. I notice them because I bought a bright pink plastic piggy bank with a nose that screws off to get at the loot for my five-year-old friend and I often compare the ones I see to the one I bought. She keeps her piggy on her bed side of our bed and empties and fills it with her penny collection whenever she comes over.

    I remember one from my childhood, amber glass with a pebbled surface, but I think it was my sisters. I’ve never been a good saver. Born ahead of my time?

  10. Piggy banks! I grew up with one too – a black porcelain pig with pink and blue flowers was my favourite (it had that all important rubber stopper underneath) and there were others. My grandfathers grew up in the depression and one in particular was obsessed with money, as a result. He became a very wealthy man, but lived as though he might become a pauper any minute. This was frustrating to those around him, who used to joke they’d have to sew pockets in his shroud, so he could take all his money with him. My mom retained some of this attitude about money. It didn’t carry over to my generation. 🙂

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