My parents, Mr. and Mrs. Billy Joe Brockington, understood the value of a dollar.
I grew up the youngest of three children and on our first birthdays, my sisters and I received piggy banks. Whenever we got any money—from gifts, allowance, or doing chores—we got to keep half and put the other half into the piggy bank. My bank was shaped like a donkey. When I was 3 years old, I named it after my favorite Winnie-the-Pooh character. I couldn’t pronounce “Eeyore,” so he became known as Earl.
I would say, “I’m rich!” every time I put money into Earl, even though I had accumulated only a bunch of change and a few dollar bills. The more I saw go into the bank, the more I looked forward to spending it.
Our piggy banks were meant to teach my sisters and me how to save, but they also were meant to instill discipline. No matter how much we wanted it, we were not allowed to take any money from our banks until we went to college.
Understanding Wants vs. Needs
I learned a lot from my parents about the difference between wanting and needing something. When some folks received additional income, they would buy cars and other expensive material goods. These possessions looked nice, but my parents would not spend their money on things they did not need. If something was not a necessity, it was not worth it. Still, if my parents took care of business and had a little extra, they would treat themselves to something nice.
Growing up in the Deep South roughly 60 years ago made my mother and father appreciate what they owned. Because I did not grow up the way my parents did, I never thought money was a major issue. We had everything we needed as a family—and most of what we wanted.
When I got older, I started to feel entitled to the money in my piggy bank. When I was 12 years old, I wanted the No. 8 1993 Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes, but I was $50 short. I had the money to buy jeans, which I needed, but I wanted those Air Jordans. I threw a fit because my parents would not give me the additional money I needed to buy the shoes; despite my protests, they would not budge.
My father responded with the same advice he gave me at least once a week: “If you really want something, you’ll find a way to earn it.”
My mother added, “If you don’t have enough money for something, you probably don’t need it.”
Looking back, I realize that the three pairs of jeans I bought with my money probably lasted for years, whereas those Air Jordans might have lasted for six months. My mom and dad learned how to live without extra material belongings when they were growing up, so they understood that a full stomach and a healthy family were more important than a fancy pair of shoes—and they wanted me to understand that, too.
Earl and I Go to College
I finally gained access to the money in my piggy bank when I left for college. Over the course of putting away my nickels and dimes throughout my childhood, I had saved $1,912.94. My parents threw in a check for $87.06 to make it an even $2,000.
At 18 years old, $2,000 was a lot of money to me. My college tuition and boarding costs were paid for. I also received funding from scholarships and had my high school graduation money. I thought I was on top of the world; with this money I could eat, drink, and buy whatever I wanted.
Right away, I started to spend my money on clothes, stereo equipment, friends, and food. I bought the latest music and fashion, and I had the party atmosphere down. A lot of money was going out, but nothing was coming in.
Before I knew it, I was draining my account quickly. That money should have lasted at least two semesters, but barely halfway through my freshman year, I hardly had any left.
My Reality Check
Winter break of my freshman year, my whole family gathered for dinner.
“So how much money do you have left?” my dad asked me. “Do have enough to buy gifts for everyone?”
I knew this was coming. I wanted to cry.
I was literally shaking before I answered. “I have a little bit left,” I replied.
“How much is a little bit?” my dad asked.
Now I was really scared, because I had taken my account down to around $350. I rounded up slightly and responded, “About $500.”
I kept my head down and waited for my parents’ response.
Their reaction was not what I anticipated. I expected yelling, lecturing, questioning, and disappointment. Instead, there was a stern moment of silence.
Finally, my mom asked, “Do you remember when you wanted those Air Jordans? You begged and cried because you did not get your way. Who are you going to beg and cry to in college?”
That is all she said to me the rest of the evening, which was worse than yelling and screaming. My mom was absolutely correct, and the reality of her words began to sink in.
My parents decided to put $500 into my account before I returned from break. My dad told me that if I wanted more money, I would have to get a job. I heard what he was saying, but I did not understand his message. I went back to school and started spending money again without caution (I wanted to party and play baseball, not find a job).
Two months after returning to school, I had $275 to my name. There was absolutely no way to justify my misuse of money. I had to grow up and heed my parents’ advice. I continued to take classes, but I got a full-time job to support myself.
Making My Parents Proud
When my father passed away on Nov. 10, 2011, he left my mother, sisters, and me the money that he had saved over the years.
At that time, I was working as a commercial quotation associate and I was not happy with my job. I decided to go back to school full time—my father wanted me to continue my education, and I wanted to make him proud.
I am now 34 years old and back in school. But I no longer worry about partying—I don’t have time to go through the motions of growing up. Now, I have adult responsibilities. My wife, Meghan, and I own a home, two vehicles, and a dog.
We have separate and joint bank accounts, and we do not spend from our joint accounts without consulting each other. We have done a good job of not overspending. We want to save those funds for our future and spend the least amount of money in general.
Meghan and I split almost everything, including groceries, dining out, toiletries, dog care supplies, mortgage, and utilities. We try to coordinate how much cash we have and what we are willing to spend, and we use our personal accounts to buy items we want as individuals.
Meghan’s parents grew up similar to mine. We want to have children, so we are building a better understanding of how to reserve our resources. We enjoy living right now. We vacation as often as possible and we want to have the finances to give our children the same experience.
When I was young and my parents told me to save my money, I thought I had plenty of time. I now understand their message. They taught me that something you earn can be very different from something you are given. My parents also taught me to take care of my belongings, and, guess what? I still own clothes and shoes from high school!
Thanks to my parents, I have finally learned the value of a dollar.
[Keve Brockington is studying journalism at Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colo.]