Money, freedom and a lesson on the importance of saving

By Len Penzo

Published: Friday, May 30 2014 9:47 a.m. MDT

One of money's best characteristics is its ability to bestow freedom upon those who possess it.

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Editor's note: This article originally ran on the personal finance blog, Len Penzo dot com. It has been reprinted here with permission.

One of money’s best characteristics is its ability to bestow freedom upon those who possess it. Unfortunately, the amount of freedom that money provides is directly proportional to the amount of cash available — not only in our wallet, but in our checking, savings and retirement accounts as well.

After all, more money means more choices — for everything from the food we eat and the clothes we wear, to the cars we drive and the homes in which we live.

Of course, there’s the flip side, too: Less money provides fewer choices. My fantastic free-spending teenage son, Matthew, discovered that for himself last week; and it all started with an innocent question:

“Hey, Dad! Can I go to Disneyland with Brandon and his parents tonight?”

“Tickets to Disneyland are very expensive, son. Do you have enough money?”

“No. I was wondering if you could buy my ticket and I’ll do a few projects around the house to pay you back later.”

“You’re asking for a lot of cash, Matthew. Did you know Disneyland tickets are $96 now? And that doesn’t include food or anything else.”

“Wow.”

“‘Wow’ is right. So now you know why we’re always nagging you to set aside at least some of your money for a rainy day. How much do you have saved up right now?”

“Zero.”

Nothing? Didn’t you get almost $100 for your birthday a few weeks ago?”

“Yeah, but I spent it already.”

“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. But I’m not going to just give you $100 today.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. I’m sorry, son.”

“But what if I put that fence screen up for you? How much money would I earn for that?”

“$20.”

“Okay. What if I wash your car too?”

“Ten bucks. Unfortunately, son, there’s just not enough time left today to earn the money you’ll need for tonight. The trick is to have the cash before you need it.”

“But I didn’t know that Brandon was going to ask me to go to Disneyland until today!”

Exactly. Thanks for making my point on the importance of saving.”

“But that’s not fair at all, Dad!”

“Boo hoo. Look … If you had $30 or $40 in savings, coupled with money earned for the fence screen and car wash, then I could have helped you out with a small loan from the Bank of Dad — but you don’t.”

That was no comfort to my son. “Whatever, Dad.”

“Look at the bright side,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“Since you’re not going to Disneyland, that means you get to join the family when we go out to dinner tonight.”

“How is that better than going to Disneyland?”

“Because,” I said with a smile, “It’s my treat!”

My son didn’t find that quip to be very amusing. But hopefully, he’s learning that, just as accruing excessive debt makes us indentured servants to our lenders by severely limiting our future financial flexibility, failing to save money — or being dependent on friends and family for income — severely limits our choices in life too.

Len Penzo is a personal finance blogger with a strong disdain for debt. His blog, Len Penzo dot com, has been featured as one of Kiplinger's Personal Finance Best Money Blogs in 2010 and 2012.

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