There is a story that my daddy used to like to tell about me. It happened when I was eight or nine.
One morning I ran outside to meet him as he was returning from his barn chores. "I need eight dollars to pay for the new books that I'm ordering," I told him. In grammar school, we would receive catalogs from the teachers, pick out books we wanted then order them.
Two of the happiest days of my life were when the catalog came and then when the books arrived a few weeks later. My parents were always generous in allowing me to buy books.
Daddy nodded, pulled his wallet out and opened it. "All I've got is a hundred dollar bill," he said, spreading his wallet to show it to me. "Can you wait until tomorrow?"
I shook my head. "No, it's due today." I bit my lip and thought for a second. "Wait here." I turned and ran back into the house. A few minutes later, I returned.
"I can change the hundred dollar bill," I reported and began counting out fives, tens and ones. I was always a saver. I saved birthday money, money from the tooth fairy, money earned for doing chores and the very occasional allowance I got. When I wanted a pretty new pair of shoes that wasn't necessary, I would skip school lunch and save the money until I had enough to buy them. Of course, I did this behind Mama's back. She never approved of skipping meals.
A slight glint rose up in Daddy's eyes as I counted out the money then took the hundred dollar bill from him. He grinned. "If you have this much money then why I am paying for these books?"
I shrugged as I held out my hand for the eight dollars. "Because I don't want to spend my money."
This is a very good policy to follow in life whenever given the choice. Save your money and spend someone else's.
Mama practiced this diligently until the day she died. It worked out quite well for her, too.
"I love this coat," she would say wistfully when she pulled it off the rack. "I'd buy it but I just don't have the money." (Yes, she did. She just thought she didn't.)
So, I'd buy it for her.
"I love watching Larry King every night but he's on the cable channels I don't get because all I can afford is basic." So, my sister bought the extra channels.
It worked so well for her that Mama died before her money ran out.
The idea of saving and living frugally was preached diligently by my parents who had weathered the storms of the Great Depression. I laugh when I remember how well my niece, Nicole, learned that sermon. She was 14 and had come to Indianapolis to visit me during her spring break. One night I was cleaning up after dinner and noticed Nicole curled up on the sofa, scratching away with pen and paper. She'd frown, shake her head and scribble some more.
"What are you doing?" I asked as I wiped off the table.
She sighed heavily. "I'm adding up what I've spent since I've been here and I'm 53 cents short. Do you remember what I brought?" She was dead serious. She didn't quit until those coins were accounted for.
After Sunday lunch recently, I said, "Y'all save me the scraps for the cats. That'll be one less day that I have to buy cat food. In these economic times, we have to cut back."
Rodney laughed. "You've always saved. Not just now."
I nodded. "I want to be like Mama: Die owing no one, with money in the bank."
So I eat leftovers for days, sew my clothes occasionally and clean my own house.
It makes for good cents.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.