My parents tried to teach my sisters and me the virtues of saving money while we were still quite young. They would stuff bills and coins into a cookie jar on the shelf in the kitchen, or into an empty Maxwell House coffee can. They started savings accounts for us when we were born, and as soon as we were old enough, they’d drive us over to the fortress that was the Dollar Savings Bank on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx to deposit our birthday money. They took us to see Mary Poppins at the Loew’s Paradise and would sing us the song about “when you put tuppence in a bank account,” over and over again.
And what were we saving money for?
Even if we didn’t yet understand what college was, we understood the importance of going there. After all, that’s what my parents were always doing. Apparently it meant being away a lot, and when you’re home, being busy and having to be quiet so they could “concentrate.” My father would be tip-tapping away at his master’s thesis on his manual Smith-Corona in the alcove behind the front door of our apartment. He’d be taking classes during the day and driving a taxi at night. Later on, after we moved to the suburbs, my parents were working as teachers and going to college one night a week and during the summer.
I learned that, to get anywhere in life, you had to have a college degree, and preferably several. Eventually, my mother collected four. I went on to earn two degrees myself, and I dearly hope to be able to work toward a third before too long.
Not only did college involve a lot of work — going to classes, studying, writing papers — but it also involved a lot of money. And the only way to get enough money was to save your pennies, and to start early.
So when we learned that our 15 year old niece was pregnant, after the shock wore off one of the first things that I said was “she’s going to college!” I informed my wife that we needed to start a college fund for her immediately. She agreed, and we did. We couldn’t add much to it during the year that I was unemployed, but even then we did our best to throw a few bucks into the fund whenever we could.
A couple of years have gone by, and now my niece is in her second year of college, setting a great example for her little one. I am very proud of her efforts, which are made possible due to scholarships. Her parents did not attend college; there was no planning for higher education while she was growing up. She had no role models to show her the effects of college firsthand, nor did she have anyone to help her save money for college.
My goal is to make sure that things will be different for her daughter. It is my hope that, by the time she graduates from high school, we will be able to pay for her college education. She won’t have to work part-time while she is a student, nor will she be saddled with enormous student loans that continue to accrue interest for decades, with little hopes of ever getting out of debt. One of the reasons we can do this, of course, is that we don’t have any children of our own to provide for.
Despite my good intentions, it recently came to my attention that I have gone woefully astray. Establishing a college fund for my grandniece was a visceral reaction to her impending birth, something that came from my heart, not my head. As it turns out, when I started this project two years ago, I set something in motion that has the potential to spiral out of control. I knew not what I had wrought.
What never occurred to me was that my wife has other nieces and nephews in their twenties and thirties, and that they too will start having babies and might expect us to afford their offspring the same beneficence provided to our very first grandniece. Uh-oh.
Well, it finally happened. One of the nephews and his girlfriend recently celebrated the arrival of their first bundle of joy. Initially, I thought nothing of it. I am not at all close to this nephew; perhaps I see him once or twice per year, and he makes no effort to keep in touch with me. But sure enough, I stuck my foot in my mouth by mentioning something about our first grandniece’s college fund in his presence, and now we have to establish similar savings for the second grandniece.
So what will happen if my wife’s other nieces and nephews start having children? I suppose we will have to establish college funds for all of them as well. With our limited ability to save, we may be doling out little bits to college funds for five or six (or more!) children. A penny for you, a penny for you, a penny for you, and a penny for you. I can’t imagine that any of these funds will add up to a hill of beans by the time the grandnieces and grandnephews are ready for college.
And this does not even begin to take into account the progeny of my sister-in-law’s blended family. She has long since divorced her second husband, but we still keep in touch with his eight children and continue to act as their aunt and uncle.
What this shows, of course, is that I am a Class A Idiot. I don’t think things through, talk about stuff that gets me in trouble, and have no hope of reaching any of my well-intentioned goals.
So, please, all you nieces and nephews, listen up! Do not, I repeat, do not have any more children for a few years. We want all of them to be able to attend college and, at this rate, I may never be able to retire.