My Uncle Saved $6,000 for Me That Changed My Approach to Money

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  • My uncle did not buy me presents as a child. Instead, he put a small sum of money in a savings account.
  • When I was 22, he gave me the $6,000 he’d saved and told me to keep building it for a down payment.
  • I learned that consistency with savings can yield greater accumulations over time.

For most of my childhood, I associated money with buying items in the immediate future. The month leading to Christmas would find me sitting thoughtfully over a Toys “R” Us catalog, circling my choices with a crayon. Dollars were saved for the ice cream truck at the town pool or sparkly nail polish at the drugstore. Each time I received money, my immediate thought was how I would spend it. 

I couldn’t understand where my ‘gifts’ were

My uncle gave me a lifelong lesson in financial planning and saving. He did not give me gifts for birthdays or holidays while I was growing up. Instead, for each of these occasions, my uncle would put some money aside in a savings account. When I was older, he told me, he would give me access to the money saved there. 

As a child, this was an abstract concept I had difficulty understanding. My reasoning was, “Well, if I can’t see the present, then there’s no present.” I thought my uncle had forgotten my birthday, even though he assured me he hadn’t. 

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This conversation would be repeated throughout my childhood. At each family event, my uncle would take me aside and explain that he did not have a present with him because he had deposited my present in a savings account. While the concept of an invisible gift was tricky to grasp, it felt important to talk about “adult topics,” like money and savings. These exchanges began to take on a warmth and familiarity over the years. 

He gave me the full sum when I was 22

When I saw my uncle sometime after my college graduation, at age 22, I was expecting to have one of our familiar conversations. Instead, he presented me with the bank book for the money he’d saved during those birthdays and holidays. 

Since the day I was born, my uncle had collected over $6,000. Instead of spending money on gifts I would enjoy in the moment that would later be discarded, my uncle planned to support me as a financially independent adult. 

He advised me to put the money into a bank account that I would now be responsible for, so it could continue to grow. He encouraged me to continue adding to the sum, so I could use the money to put a down payment on a living space in the future. 

Seeing the actual sum of money and the bank account that showed its history helped me understand how modest sums add up. For each birthday and holiday, my uncle put a sum of money in the bank, somewhere between $25 and $100. This was tangible evidence that patience and consistency with money can yield a positive outcome. 

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I’ve been applying his savings lesson ever since

In the time since receiving the accumulation of my birthday gifts from my uncle, I have taken his advice and continued to grow the money rather than spend it. I put a small amount of my paycheck into my savings account. I also have an automatic withdrawal taken out of my paycheck that goes into a retirement account. By putting a modest sum of each paycheck into the bank, I have been able to grow my savings over the past decade by thousands of dollars. 

Sometimes, these deposits are only $25, depending on expenses. It can be easy to talk myself out of putting such a small sum in savings at all. After all, is it worth it to put that $25 in the bank when that money can pay for a week of pushcart coffee? But then I remind myself that small sums helped to build my “birthday gift” savings. Delayed gratification can result in greater returns.  

I do not yet have the home of my dreams, as I’ve come to realize that a house needs furniture and appliances I should continue to save for. However, now that I understand how small savings can yield big results over time, I can thoughtfully plan to grow that down payment.  

This article was originally published in October 2022.

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