Picking Up Pennies

I was a rebellious son. I’m not proud of that fact, but it is true.

No, I never got into any “real” trouble. I never did drugs, and I never broke into a house. I didn’t even use bad language. As a matter of fact, I went to church regularly and taught Bible classes. But when you compare the way I behaved to what the Bible teaches, I came up woefully short. Paul told Christians children to “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother…” (Ephesians 6:1,2a) That, my friends, was the problem. I didn’t honor my folks. To my adolescent mind, they were out-of-touch and basically too stupid to be taken seriously.

Today, I’m 55 years old and both of my parents are with the Lord. Yet, I respect both of them more now than ever.

Occasionally, people still tell me how much like my dad I am. And, grudgingly, I have to admit that they’re right. I have many of his mannerisms and traits. I tend to view the world much like he did. I tend to react to criticism like my father did. The truth is, I’m mini-Dad!

Dad wasn’t perfect, but he was a good, godly man. He always put our family first. He never took the last piece of chicken at dinner. He worked harder than most of my friends’ fathers and provided well for us. He treated Mom like a queen. For better or worse, he paid virtually all of my expenses. He wrote the checks for all of my cloths into young adulthood. He helped me buy my first cars, and ponied-up for the insurance. He even covered the full tab for my college education. Dad taught me about Jesus, and told me about his own walk with our Lord.

My dad was also a Penny-Picker-Upper. When he saw a penny lying on the pavement, Dad always stopped and picked it up. Frankly, I don’t know why. Maybe he was trying to teach me a lesson. Or, maybe he was simply trying to become a millionaire verrrrrry slowly. But either way, it made an impression on me. His example helped me learn the value of money and how tough it is to earn it. Dad helped me understand the sin of wastefulness and bad stewardship.

To this day, I’m a Penny-Picker-Upper. The other night I stopped at a restaurant while in the Washington D.C. area doing a No Debt No Sweat! Seminar. As I rushed to the car I saw a lone penny lying on the pavement. “I’m too busy to waste my time picking that thing up,” I thought. Then, dutifully, I walked back, bent down, and picked the penny up.

Financially speaking, that did not make good sense — especially these days. (Actually, I’ve done a little calculation on what a professional, full-time Penny-Picker-Upper could earn. Assuming he could pick up one penny every 4 seconds, working a full 40-hour week, he would earn $18,000 per year — hardly enough to live on.)

So why do I do it? There are probably several reasons. But, I know what two of them are. First, I feel somehow connected to my father through this little ritual. It’s one way I have of honoring him and his legacy. Second, it is a good discipline for me. It helps me remember the value of money. It keeps me from taking things for granted. It reminds me that pennies turn into dollars.

As parents, Bonnie and I were fully committed to setting a good stewardship model for our brood. There were times we felt under appreciated (to say the least), but it has paid off. Today, we have four grown kids who are all financially smart and self-reliant. May I share a few suggestions that you may find useful?

1. Let the kiddos see you pay the bills. At least occasionally, sit down with little Jeremy or Judy and say, “Let me show you how Dad and I get the house we live in and pay for the lights.” Then explain in simple terms how you have to work a certain number of hours to earn enough money to pay the $140 electric bill. Compare the work time to how much play time it would equate to for the little one.

2. Deny yourself in front of the children. When you see something in a catalog or a store window that you would like to have, but can’t afford, tell your children how you feel. Help them understand that even though it makes you sad now, by putting it off, you’ll be happier later. (Can we say, deferred gratification?)

3. Price compare at the grocery store. Avoid rushing through the store with a grab-and-go mentality. Pick up similar items at the store and show your tricycle motor how one costs more than the other — and how much you can save by being thoughtful with each purchase.

4. Take a child to work with you if the boss will allow it. Let them sit there (with a book or a quiet game) until they become bored. Then on the way home, help her understand why you do what you do, and how it makes the car and other stuff possible.

5. Explain the decisions you make. When you decide that the budget isn’t going to allow for a trip to Disneyworld, tell the kids why you’re going to Grandmom’s place instead. Help them understand that the money you’re saving will be used to help others, or pay some debt down, or send the crumb crunchers to college one day.

One of the most important gifts we parents can give our kids is a legacy of good stewardship. No matter how dismissive your little bambino’s are, don’t give up on the mission. They may not seem to hear you today, but maybe one day after you’ve assumed room temperature, they will remember the lesson.

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