Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Little Tin Box

"I was keeping my money in a little tin box, and so I could see it dwindling away. I nearly wore out what I had left, counting it, hoping there would be more than I knew there was. (Snip) I was dreading the day I would have to write and ask for money."

and later....

"I wasn't regularly employed yet, I wasn't what you could call a "success," but my little stock of money in the tin box quit shrinking and began to grow. I started a bank account."
~~quotes taken from the novel Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry

I had the opportunity to have lunch with a couple of elderly farm wives last week. They had lived through the depression, and they knew something about thrift. When the conversation turned to our nation's broken economy, one lady remarked that she knew who could balance the budget.


"Iowa farm wives. If those Washington big-wigs would send the budget to us, we'd fix it! We know how to save pennies in a band-aid box until we have enough to pay CASH. We don't buy on credit. We don't buy what we can't afford."

Her words may sound simplistic, but I think there is a lot of wisdom in them. The Hannah Coulters of the last century had their little stashes--the egg money or the pin money set aside for some small luxury that may take years to realize. Touching the coins, counting them, and hearing them "ka-ching" inside the tin box was part of the ritual. You could see and feel progress as the box became heavy.

I never had a tin box, but when I was first married, we used the "envelope system" of budgeting. We put the cash from our paycheck into envelopes earmarked for food, gas, house payment, etc. When the money in the envelope was gone, we quit spending.

Today, when I use a credit/debit card, I have brought the whole process of buying and selling into the abstract. I'm in danger of buying beyond my means when I use a plastic card because I can't visualize the dent it will make on the bottom line. When I get what I want NOW, I fail to savor the pleasure of planning, scheming, and budgeting ahead for the reward.

There are means to compensate for this. You can use an online money manager and see your spending all laid out in pie charts and graphs. I prefer my homespun paper chart that hangs on the door by my computer, where I pay the bills. I need a tangible snapshot of where I've been and where I'm going financially, and how long it will take to meet my goals. It's a paper version of the tin box; it feels good to cross off one more payment on the chart.

I think there is more to this than meets the eye. The tin-box method of money management says something about character and maturity. The ability to delay gratification makes it all the sweeter when it is fulfilled. I have the opportunity to cultivate gratefulness, because there are spaces in between my purchases. It feels good to be extricated from the world's trap of buying-like-there's-no-tomorrow.

Do you have a little tin box?


Kathryn said...

Over the last couple years, we have fixed our budget! We learned to watch our money grow and wait until we can pay cash, and it IS "all the sweeter".

A couple weeks ago we paid cash for a van we have been saving for. We saved carefully knowing that as our family got bigger our car would have to, too! It was really wonderful to find the car we wanted and be able to hand over CASH and make our biggest purchase ever. It was great seeing the Lord provide, and knowing that by our careful saving we were being a good steward of what He had provided!

Anonymous said...

My "little tin box" is actually a wonderful old pitcher that I found years ago...and it's my new sofa fund. I think I am almost there, but I am not going to count it until I actually move into a new apartment. Then maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised with a bonus!

Its such a wonderful feeling to purchase things with not guilt or strings or "what if I lose my job and can't make a payment" attached! Instant gratification is nice, but that gratification also fades in that same instant. Saving and then purchasing leads to a satisfaction of much deeper value.