Many years ago, I began saving $5 bills after getting change. This small act has changed the way I view money, how I shop and what I view as needs versus wants.
It’s quite simple actually. Each time I purchase something and receive a $5 bill as my change, I put it in a jar and save it for a designated period of time. I first began doing this activity when I realized that purchasing Christmas gifts in December was becoming a financially stressful endeavor. I had family and friends to think about, but I also had the seasonal tips to give out to various security guards and janitors in my building. Those holiday envelopes and gifts to friends are presents I joyfully want to give. However, until I hit the lottery, I must watch my budget.
As I watch the jar grow each week with $5 bills, I also realized that my spending habits have changed. When I am shopping, I start looking at goods in a different way. I love seeing my savings literally grow before my very eyes. I have even gotten several friends to participate in saving their $5 bills, so saving has become a community competition of sorts. All of us are saving for different things: a child’s camp this summer, a much-needed vacation, paying off a credit card or just a slush fund for the unknown.
I find saving easiest if I have a set goal in mind as well as a set savings time period. Saving indefinitely seems abstract and makes it difficult for friends to have the healthy saving competition. I usually have a three-month time period and love seeing my $5 bills add up.
I find it astouning to see what saving one $5 bill each week can yield. If you save just one $5 bill each week for a year, you’ll have $260 of what seems like “free money.” If you save four $5 bills each week, you’ll have $1,040. There are quite a few things I could do with $1,040!
The African-American community has had a complex relationship with money, saving and learning the intricacies of finance. Because of several historically racist practices, the majority of the African-American community was not able to accumulate generational wealth. This act is just a small, somewhat fun way to save money while including your friends and community members in the process. It is also a great way to involve young children in the process of saving money, choosing between wants and needs when shopping and linking applicable math to their daily lives. I am definitely not perfect, but I’ve made one small step in becoming more financially literate and including my family and friends in the process.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” Follow her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.