For quite some time now, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has hosted a website, feedthepig.org, that is devoted to promoting savings and planning for retirement and other personal financial goals. I have a vague recollection of hearing about this site some years ago, but it again came to my attention recently due to a billboard posted in our neighborhood. The message on the sign (and I paraphrase) read “Be the rich uncle that you always wished you had.”
This is wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. It calls up a visceral reaction in my gut that makes me want to scream.
Allow me to start by saying that I do believe in the importance of saving a portion of one’s income “for a rainy day.” I get it that the AICPA is trying to encourage Americans to save, something that very few of us do on a regular basis. I see this as a laudable goal, but I also think they are utter fools if they believe that billboards like this one will change anyone’s habits.
Giving and saving are two things that are near and dear to our hearts. My wife and I tithe 10% of our income to worthy causes, such as our local food banks, and to family members in need, of which there are unfortunately more than a few at this time. At the holidays, we always end up giving extra, which is something we plan for during the year. And, yes, we do save our pennies. Literally. We have a canister for collection of stray pennies and a “change up” for collection of nickels, dimes and quarters. In summary, the message of the importance of savings is not lost on us. Nevertheless, I find the AICPA’s sign offensive.
I realize that we are entering that time of year known as the season of giving, but I believe that signs like the one I saw posted fail to acknowledge the important of receiving. Remember that in order to give, someone has to receive. I was reminded of this recently when we tried to give a few bucks to our niece. She is only 19 years old and having a rough time of it, what with having a 3 year old daughter and a job that recently cut her hours back to three days per week. Nevertheless, I could see that we were making her very uncomfortable by trying to press a twenty into her hand. We knew she needed it and she knew she needed it, but that doesn’t change how awful we feel when we’re reduced to a position in which we need to rely on the charity of others. We all want to be self-sufficient. Years ago, I saw a poster emblazoned with the logo “poverty sucks.” ‘Nuff said.
Squirming is a natural reaction when on the receiving end of largesse. I think this goes beyond the sadness that is bound to accompany acknowledgment that we are in need. It is indicative of the fact that Mom and Dad never taught us how to receive gracefully. Most of us were taught “to give is better than to receive.” The moral imperative of this statement aside, certainly it is preferable to be in a financial position to give rather than to be in such straits that we need to put our hands out. But it is not possible for us to give unless someone is willing to receive. Giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin, and I cannot put that coin into your hand unless you are willing to receive it.
I know what it is like to get laid off, to be unemployed for a year and to have to spend down savings and rely on family and Food Stamps to get by. I know what it is like to stand in line for hours to receive a U.S. Department of Agriculture food handout. I’ve been there, folks. And if this economy doesn’t improve sometime soon, I may be there again. In the meantime, however, we do what we have learned to do best: Saving and giving.
But please, please, do not tell me to be the rich uncle that I always wished I had. There is no substitute for having a generous relative and being one yourself is not the same thing at all. Remember, when you are on the receiving end of someone’s generosity, you are allowing that person to bless you. Conversely, if you are unable to accept gifts gracefully, you are preventing someone from blessing you. Think about that next time someone tries to do something nice for you and you feel weird about it.
I’m sure most of us do wish we had rich uncles to bankroll our every whim, or even to grant an occasional wish. There is nothing wrong with this. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have this opportunity. Still, it is just fine to daydream about it. There is no shame in receiving or in wishing you could receive. Giving has its own rewards, but it can never compare to being on the receiving end of your heart’s desires. Generosity is lovely, but it can never substitute for the joy of receiving exactly what you always wanted. Hence, all those prettily wrapped boxes under our Christmas trees.
Not all of us can be the rich uncle, but all of us can experience the thrill of receiving, whether from a rich uncle or just from our neighbor. And that is nothing to be ashamed of.