Spend a Little. Save a Little. Invest a Little. Give a Little.

We will soon be hosting a high school graduation party at our home for my oldest child.  UNC Chapel Hill, here comes my son Robert!  (For those of you who know the extent to which the old gold and black of Wake Forest colors everything in the Armstrong family, you know how challenging those words are for me.)

Of course my lovely’s bride’s interpretation of getting ready for a party translates into “it’s time for Bert to finally get off the couch and do some yard work.”

Seizing on the opportunity for a memorable father/son moment, I quickly enlisted the services of my teenage son to help out when the first dump truck load of mulch arrived.  After all, the party is for him, right?  As the two of us were working through the SECOND dump truck load of mulch this evening – Robert assigned to pitch fork duty while I shuttled the fruits of his labor into the back yard, – I asked him if he’d like to do this around the neighborhood this summer for some extra spending money.  I told him it would add nicely to the generous gifts that have come from some special family and friends as he prepares to graduate.  He immediately chimed in and said that he is putting all of his graduation money into his savings account and will only use the spending money he makes from working to fund his evolving summertime social life.  That makes a lot of sense except for the teeny-tiny fact that he still is without a summer job!

After shoveling a few more heaps of mulch into the wheelbarrow, he stopped, looked up at me and said “Dad, do you remember those four plastic jars that Papa Jim and Grandma Nancy gave Jenni (little sister) and me when we were little?  That was a really cool gift for a kid my age.”  

I immediately recalled that Christmas many years ago when both kids unwrapped four Tupperware jars, each with a simple word on a piece of tape.  “Spend,” “Save,” “Invest,” and “Give.”  Each was "seeded" with portions of their always generous Christmas cash.  I remember Papa Jim’s instructions to the kids to take a little bit of their allowance, or Christmas money they received, or any other monies that came their way, and split it among the four containers.  He didn’t get into a lot of specifics about tithing to the church or saving a certain percentage of  earnings, or investing conservatively (all things I am confident are important disciplines in his own life).  He knew that the kids were too young to absorb such complexity.  He simply encouraged them to always put a little bit in each jar whenever they had the opportunity.

The jars are gone now, replaced by a teenager’s checking and savings account, a small investment fund that has a few stocks picked by the kids themselves, and regular reminders from mom and dad to share a portion of the gifts God has given them with others through the offering plate on Sunday mornings and through other means whenever and however they can.

For me, the “giving” jar will always represent the greatest of Papa Jim’s money lessons. One of the things that all of the grandparents on both sides of our family have done throughout their lives is show amazing generosity to others.  Grandpa Jim and Grandma Nancy are joyful givers and supporters of many ministries, social service groups, and arts organizations in their adopted hometown of Roanoke, Virginia.  The Reverend Gerry (aka “Grammy”) has left a lasting impact on many special ministries of the United Methodist Church across North Carolina through her philanthropy and servant leadership.  And “Mimi’ Gae’s” faithful volunteerism, thoughtful gift-giving, and simple acts of kindness to neighbors has left a lasting impact on the people in my hometown of Mount Gilead.

Each grandparent, in their own unique way, is a special role model for their grandchildren. We are blessed by the examples they set every day.  While I probably won’t know for some time what the impact will be from the attempts my wife and I have made to be good role models for our kids, I am encouraged to know that the life lessons from wise and generous grandparents have stuck with them.  Thanks be to God to each of you for that gift to my children.

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