My pal Basil and I were 15 years old when my older brother, Wilfrid, hired us to work in the back room of his store in Estevan, Saskatchewan. It was one of the two “large” grocery stores in town but large in 1940 would be considered small measured by the size of today’s massive supermarkets.
Back then, many items, like candy, sugar, potatoes, and even peanut butter, came from the factory in bulk. Candy was delivered in 45-pound boxes and sugar in 100-pound sacks.
For $1 a week, Basil and I came from school each afternoon to weigh and bag these various items. We put the candy in cellophane bags, since plastic was not yet in use, and scooped sugar into five- and ten-pound paper bags, sealing them to avoid spills, and readying them to be put on store shelves.
I looked forward to payday each week. I usually had something in mind I was eager to buy. One dollar was an intoxicating amount of money to me, but by next payday I was always broke.
After we had worked for more than half a year Basil startled me one day by telling me that in his bedroom he had a roll of 35 one-dollar bills held together with an elastic band. He had not yet spent any of his earnings. The shock was that I had nothing to show for my work.
To what extent this experience tempered my spendthrift impulses I cannot tell. It was surely one influence among others that pushed me toward a wiser use of money. I do know Basil’s disclosure arrested my attention enough that I remember clearly the exchange with him these 75 years later.
Earlier, when I was perhaps twelve years old, my mother had explained to me that when you have a dime you set aside one penny for the Lord. She told me as though she was sharing a secret. A dime, and even a penny were “real money” in the 1930s.
At sixteen years of age I made a serious decision to give my life to Christ and follow him. One result was that I started to incorporate the “one tenth” principle into my new faith as my earning power increased.
But adolescent intentions can easily be shaken. When devotion was warm I was diligent about the ten percent; when devotion cooled I became negligent. In spite of some early vacillations, by the time I was twenty the practice of tithing had become a fixed habit.
Throughout my upbringing, my parents had been dropping their tutorial hints, sometimes strongly, about how to manage slim resources. As immigrants to Canada from coal mining poverty in England, and upon surviving the Great Depression on the prairies of Saskatchewan, thrift and frugality were fundamental virtues to them, regularly emphasized and practiced around our house.
My father said to me from time to time, “You should put a little aside for a rainy day.” I knew he meant “Don’t blow every penny you’ve got today.” I heard him say several times, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” and “Look after the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves.”
By the time I was twenty, much of what I had learned from Basil’s arresting disclosure, and my mother’s privately shared information, and my father’s borrowed proverbs seemed to stick. Sparse funds were under control.
Who can say how many other subtle influences entered my consciousness and stuck, completing my Money 101 course? However many I’ve forgotten, in reflection I believe it was my settled purpose to follow the Lord made at 16 years of age that provided the best and most enduring motivation.
Then I met Kathleen. She was one of seven children raised by a widowed mother, and she had developed early skills in managing the money she earned by cleaning house for neighbors or working summers in a factory. In fact she was more skillful than I with resources.
We had $300 between us when we married and we tithed the first money we owned together. By then we understood clearly that to do so was to acknowledge that God was the owner of all things and we were his stewards. We also learned by experience that tithing prompts generosity, and it protects from greed.
Now Kathleen and I are living out our 69th year together, supported most of those years by the income of a pastor or a church overseer. I look back with appreciation on Basil’s startling revelation and the coaching of frugal parents and the managerial skills of a deeply committed wife, and the truths we’ve been served often from the Bible. I see all these fundamentals as provided by God’s bountiful mercies and plentiful grace, and give thanks!