Any seemingly gargantuan task seems easier to contemplate when reduced to baby steps. If you wished to climb a 12,000-foot mountain, and could do it a day at a time, you would only have to climb 33 feet daily to reach your summit.
Should you want to take a really nice trip in 10 years for a special occasion, to accumulate the $15,000 cost, you have to save $3.93 per day. If you drop that into a piggy bank and then once a year put $1,434 in a savings account at a puny 1% interest rate after-tax, you will have your trip money.
For Christmas, my daughter gave me a gift with a tag that read, "To my financial planner dad who likes to travel." It's a large white ceramic piggy bank, sporting map outlines of the continents. As travel often is high on people's bucket list, a piggy bank reminds us of the virtue of saving consistently to reach a goal.
When I was a child, my parents gave me a piggy bank to teach me that, if I wanted something, I should save money to buy it. We associate piggy banks with children, but in many countries, the little containers are popular with adults.
According to mint.com, the Chinese consider a piggy bank a good luck charm. Europeans see a piggy bank as a harbinger of good fortune and wealth. Around the world, many believe a gift of a piggy bank on New Year's Day brings good luck and financial success. Ah, yes, but you have to put something in it.
Why is a pig as a symbol of saving? Why not an elephant bank, which is bigger and holds more coins?
In the Middle Ages, before modern banking and credit instruments, people saved money at home, a few coins at a time dropped into a jar or dish. Potters made these inexpensive containers from a common orange-colored clay called "pygg," and folks saved coins in pygg jars.
The Middle English word for pig was "pigge." While the Saxons p! ronounced pygg, referring to the clay, as "pug," ultimately the two words morphed into the same pronunciation, sounding the "i" as in pig or piggy.
As the word became less associated with the orange clay and more with the animal, a clever potter ultimately fashioned a pygg jar in the shape of a pig, delighting children and adults. The piggy bank was born.
Originally, you had to smash the bank to get to the money, injecting a note of seriousness and discipline into savings. As piggy banks came to be made of porcelain, metal and plastic, they had a large cork inserted into the underbelly to extract money.
While piggy banks teach children the wisdom of thrift, adults often need to relearn childhood lessons. The best time to save money is when you have it. Excess debt can be ruinous.
Think about the things in life that require significant capital – private school or college educations; bat or bar mitzvahs; weddings; purchase of a home, cars and other big ticket items; starting a business; a worry-free retirement in an age of lengthening life spans; medical and long-term care; and, fun stuff like great trips. Comfortable, exotic or adventure travel is not cheap.
George S. Clason in 1926 published his classic book, The Richest Man in Babylon. One character, Arkad, once a poor scribe, became very wealthy in ancient Babylon. How did he do that? By paying himself first.
Clason recommended that, when you earn money, peel off the top 10%, put it aside, save and invest wisely. Of course, today the Internal Revenue Service will take a bite out of your financial apple before you get yours, so combine prudent tax strategies with saving.
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Lewis J. Walker, CFP, is president of Walker Capital Management and Walker Capital Advisory Services in Peachtree Corners, Ga., and is a member of the AdviceIQ Fi! nancial A! dvisors Network, which is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news and commentary. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.