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In 1974, my great-grandmother struck a deal with my 18-year-old dad that taught him a

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  • In 1974, my father spent the summer working at a motel and made $2,000.
  • My great-grandmother added $3,000 to his earnings on the condition that he leave it in a one-year CD.
  • That year, my father made another $900 in interest, and learned the value of saving money.

In the summer of 1974, my father was 18. He worked as a lifeguard at a motel and ran the concessions stand at the pool. While the days were busy, he enjoyed being able to work outside and chat with the guests who passed through. 

At the end of the summer, my dad discovered he had made $2,000 in salary and tips. In his own words, he was an undisciplined young man who spent all of his money as he made it, but he hadn’t had time to spend while he was working all summer. He planned to spend all of his earnings on new clothes and shoes. 

My great-grandmother helped my father see the value of saving

My great-grandmother immigrated to New York from Italy as a child. She worked as a seamstress and took pride in saving her own money. She was also a shop steward who represented other workers in wage negotiations.

My great-grandmother knew the value of hard work and setting money aside for savings, so she approached my dad and told him she would give him $3,000 to put in a Certificate of Deposit, along with his $2,000 earnings. However, he couldn’t touch the money for one year. If he could wait one year, he could do as he pleased with the money.

My father readily agreed. While waiting one year to access his money was not ideal, he planned to spend the $5,000 at the end of the year. His new clothes and shoes could wait until then.

My great-grandmother chose the Manhattan Savings Bank in Manhattan to place my father’s money. Her family had been using that same bank since the 1900s and she developed a rapport with the bankers there over the years. As an incentive, the bank gave patrons a gift; my great grandmother received a toaster. Every time he saw that toaster, my father thought of his $5,000.

Compare today’s saving rates

At the end of the year, my father was surprised to see how much he earned by waiting 

While my father waited for his money, he refrained from buying new clothes and shoes because he couldn’t afford them without his summer money. He found the items he already owned were in good condition and he could continue wearing them. 

At the end of the year, my father went to the bank in anticipation of taking out his $5,000. He discovered that during the year, his Certificate of Deposit had yielded 18% interest, and matured at $5,900. My father was stunned that his money increased by leaving it alone. 

He continued saving his money rather than spending it. Over the course of the year, he realized he didn’t miss buying new clothes and shoes as much as he thought he would. He was content with the items he already had.

These lessons remain with my father today as he continues to save

While CD rates vary over time, the lesson to value saving over spending stuck with my father. When he learned he made $900 in one year by avoiding spending money on items he did not need, he looked for other ways to save money. 

My great-grandmother imparted the lesson that just because you have the money to buy something, doesn’t mean you have to buy it. The satisfaction of knowing that you have the money to buy something yields a greater sense of contentment than the quick excitement of purchasing a new item and then immediately looking for the next item to save up for. Living with less begets its own satisfaction. 

Even today, my father says fashion trends come and go, and not buying into them saves money. He buys only the items that he needs, wears them frequently, and buys something new only when the old one has worn out or fallen apart. He recently had to replace a pink polo shirt he bought 35 years ago, much to his dismay.  

My dad also learned a valuable lesson about delayed gratification. It’s difficult to exercise patience while waiting for investments to grow or accounts to mature. However, consistent saving can yield greater benefits in the long run. If my father had spent his $2,000 in 1974, he would have missed out on the additional $3,900 he gained from waiting. He also would have missed the important lessons he learned from that year of waiting, which shaped his philosophy and view of saving for years to come. 

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