THE BLOG

Saving

02/23/2015 12:30 pm ET | Updated Apr 25, 2015

My father gave me sound advice when I moved away and went to work. "Always save some from your paycheck," he counseled. "Every time, even a little."

"Yes, dad, good advice (that I'll dutifully ignore)."

Tell me, when you scrape through from one check to the next, how is a young guy to save anything? Look me up for other accomplishments.

So I went out into the world and over time found something curious: regardless of my salary, the output of funds remained equal to the input (what went out maybe sometimes more than what came in). Saving, I eventually decided, is a kind of skill set, which you need...if you're going to save. It must be inborn in some people, not in everyone. Not in me.

If my father checked up on whether I was managing to save, I mumbled, "A little," and hoped he wouldn't inquire further. He would pass me a doubtful look.

Arriving in this country as a young immigrant and poor, my father went to work to help support his family, became self-educated, and eventually had his own family to support. That list contains not a single item that could apply to me. Did he manage to save anything? Yes, actually.

He and my parents taught further by example. For my birthdays, even when I was small, they, led by my father I presume, would give me one share of some stock to be put away in the bank. With more birthdays, they grew in number. For years I've held on to those stocks, and for years they have slowly increased in value, as my father figured they would. They weren't intended as a substitute for my saving, but they seemed as if they could do that.

Eventually, I was persuaded to put in an IRA as much of my salary as was allowed, with the expectation that it would grow. It did so, and when I retired from teaching, I was glad I had been smart for once. Not to give myself an excess of credit, the plan worked because the money got deducted automatically from every paycheck, and I couldn't lay my hands on it.

Recently I've put funds into the hands of a broker whom I trust, and he asked me if I save any these days. I had to quietly chuckle. "Well, no," I had to confess. It seemed as if the time for me to do that has passed.

Of course I'd be richer had I started as a young working person to squirrel away some of my salary, but I'm not sure how great a difference it would have made. I'd like to think not much.

What comes to the forefront these days is the concept of saving beyond just money. There are savings that ARE important, including memories of good times past (I'm lucky with a lot of those), letters from friends here and gone, old family photos, notebooks from school, even recipes handed down. None of that costs or needs discipline.

I don't mean this to sound mushy and overly-sentimental. As for my father, he and I went different ways on more than just the matter of saving, but I credit him with emphasizing something he knew would help me later in life. That memory I do save.

Stanley Ely writes at length about family in his new book, "Life Up Close, a Memoir," in paperback and ebook.

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