Today, as I motored home from teaching in tangled-up civilization, I heard a lady on the radio chatting about recent findings from the Bureau of Economic Analysis: that the average personal savings rate in this country has dipped below zero.
Zero? Nada? Nuttin'?
Perhaps it's time the average American tried the Coffee Can Savings Plan.
Family lore has it my great-grandmother in Ireland could squeeze the life out of a shilling, and all remnants not needed for family expenditures were placed in a coffee can, a tin wonder imported from America by some ex-pat back for a visit. This coffee can was always tucked safely away, and its whereabouts and hidden treasure known only to the lady of the house. And if someone needed a little something for an emergency, it was always there, rolled up within the tin cylinder. Seems my Irish grandmother Mary brought that same thrift plan with her when she emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s.
Nanny, as my grandmother was known to her nine grandchildren, was a woman who knew the importance of running a household efficiently and economically. Later on in life, my grandparents decided to emigrate from New Jersey to Texas, as my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and qualified for expert care at a southern medical center. While helping Nanny ready the house for sale, my mother discovered Nanny's vault.
It was everywhere.
My mother didn't know she was pulling the arm of a slot machine when she took Nanny's dresser mirror off the wall. Fives and twenties and hundreds and fifties -- real paper money fell in a heap at my mother's feet.
"Mom, what is this? Where did this come from?" my mother asked her mother.
Nanny looked at the dough, then replied,
"Ah, I've been hidin' it from your father for years."
But she couldn't remember where.
My mother, unnerved by the windfall, went to the kitchen to make tea. When she took a teapot down from the kitchen shelf, she found a grand or two wrapped in a tight roll in its ceramic hole.
So the story goes that over $8,000 was found in the house, and no one is sure if there was more. When my mother offered to take the cash to the bank for Nanny to have it exchanged for a cashier's check, the answer was "No. Put it in my suitcase. I'm taking it with me."
And she did. She arrived in Texas with a blue carry-on bag that transported her secret stash in all its glorious liquidity. It was hers. She had saved it. And too bad about any kind of bank.