In the summer of 1957 a big black water gun the size and shape of a machine gun called to me from the display window of Livingston’s Pharmacy on 10th Street in Mt Vernon, Illinois. The only water guns I had ever seen were actually called “squirt guns”, probably because they were so small that you only got a few squirts before having to refill. But this one, comparitively, was huge…the forerunner to a super soaker. “I could win any water gun fight if I had this baby”, I thought. I imagined myself staging sneak attacks on my best friend Jimmy Kaufman. I snickered as I considered soaking my sisters. I knew I had to be the first kid on my block to own one. The tag read $2.95, but it seemed like a million dollars to me.
Summoning all of my 11 year old charm, I pitched this proposal to my mom,
“Please, Mom. I will do anything you want. Please. Can I have that water gun? Please?”
Mom took a deep breath, exhaled and looked down at me,
“Yes, you can have it. All you have to do is save up for it.”
“Save up? But how? I want it now!”
“Yes, save up. You will have to figure it out.”
I passed out sales bills. I sold programs at the county fair. I mowed lawns. $2.95 was a lot of money in 1957, but I saved up and proudly purchased my water gun. I also learned a lesson: save for what you want.
Over fifty years later, “Saving up” has become an antiquated concept and a forgotten phrase. Whatever we want, we want it now, so we swipe the plastic or agree to monthly payments. We even rent stuff instead of saving up.
What is the result of this instant gratification?
- The typical household has $48,000 in debt.
- 70% of families live pay check to pay check.
- Money issues are the number one cause of marital stress.
- Bankruptcies have tripled in the last 10 years.
- Personal savings in the Unitied States has been hovering at a 0% rate for years.
We have borrowed our way into stress, divorce, bankruptcy and defeat. If character could be defined as the ability to delay pleasure for a higher good, we have compromised our character. We should be ashamed.
So here is a challenge: the next time you are tempted to purchase anything on credit, be it a couch or a car, don’t. Pay yourself for a few months and then buy with cash. If your inner child is protesting, listen to my mom’s words:
“Save up. You will have to figure it out.”
The phrase is forgotten, but the advice is timeless.