A woman and her husband opened their first bank account as a married couple. He was a spender and she was a saver, but a few hard times over the years convinced the man that saving was the wise thing to do. She was a stay-at-home mother of one child, but she liked to make crafts and art of various kinds, and would sometimes sell them on weekends. She saved every single dollar she earned. Her husband got up to saving a quarter of his pay. They had stability, and were able to get everything they needed, pay for their own home completely, buy good-quality food, and so far, able to maintain their savings rate.
The phone rings. Someone from the government, asking you to come down to the local Social Security office and bring identification. They have some property “of value” to give you. You decide it’s worth the rush-hour traffic on your day off, grab your jacket, and head out the door before they close. You’re excited, of course!
You come to find that your great, great, great grandparents were in fact, the woman and her husband. You are the only living relative they can find since your own parents passed a few years back. You have a moment of thankfulness for your good fortune, as well as being thankful that your relatives had the wherewithal to set aside savings, which has been very hard for you to do. Though, you feel bad they never got to enjoy it, and you wonder what happened to their child. Why didn’t their child inherit the money?
Probably died you figure. Lots of people died unexpectedly back then, maybe it was TB.
You arrive, and provide your ID. A few moments later, a box is brought out by the clerk. With it, you’re handed what looks like a few loose pages of… a diary… maybe? You sign for it. You get the same feeling as when you receive a birthday card — it would feel rude to look for money immediately — so you decide to read the loose papers first, brimming with excitement. You’re immediately drawn back in time, as you realize this letter is from many years ago.
“Simon and I have finally paid off our home — such a nice feeling! We still have many happy years ahead of us without that extra burden. We celebrated by buying some good steaks for dinner (Simon is so good with the grill!) and a nice bottle of Sherry.” It would be foolish to live like this every day, but if we wanted to, so long as Simon worked the next 10 years and we kept saving, but that’s boastful, and not very becoming of me. We’d no doubt get tired eating steak and drinking wine every day.”
“I have to keep on him about saving, though I must admit, when he brings me a surprise now and again my heart goes aflutter. Last week he got me a new spade for my garden-work, and today, along with the nice dinner, he brought me a pound of the finest nutmeg, which he said is from over 300 miles away! He knows I love to cook and bake desserts — no doubt this nutmeg is expected in a nice custard pie. I still feel bad that last month Simon bought a full set of encyclopedias — I’m glad we have them for our son, but the neighbors don’t own anything pricey like that.”
“We’ve decided that when Junior meets a nice woman to marry, we’ll use up to half the money to get him off to a good start. It should be plenty to buy him a plot of 10 or 20 acres nearby (since he won’t be farming), and help with the expense of building their home. This way we won’t be badgering him, but we’ll only be a short ride away. That should help him until he’s earning more, once his apprenticeship is done. We’ll still have enough to retire in a couple of years, if we keep saving diligently. We’re very thankful.”
“Our savings now is as much as Simon would earn in 3 whole years! I’m proud to say I also contributed, selling my creative things at the market — also nearly a year’s worth of pay.”
May 10, 1805
Your eyes fixate on the date at the bottom of the page: 1805. Wow!
You’re very excited — it sounds like your distant relatives were not only careful with their money, but they practically lived like kings compared to you, with your modest life, crappy car, and Ramen for dinner. You’re not sure you’ll ever be without a mortgage — and you have a sinking feeling retirement is not in the cards for you, either.
“Maybe this will change all that!” You think to yourself, eagerly opening the box.
The first thing that catches your eye is what looks like… a piece of Gold! “Eureka!” You say to yourself, un-ironically. “Awesome!”
One Troy Ounce of .999 Purity United States Gold
… is engraved on it. It feels a little heavier than you’d expect — having watched TV shows where hopeful people are scraping together mere flakes of the stuff to add up to anything. Damn, you haven’t looked lately, but you’re pretty sure that’s worth around $1,500! So far so good…
You feel like you’re in a mini-version of “Storage Wars” as you carefully start moving and removing the various personal effects, secretly hoping for a big stack of greenbacks. You feel a little guilty — but you quickly dismiss it and consider this as fate.
You see some cash!
You’re a little disappointed that it doesn’t appear to be actual currency from the 1800’s — which of course would be worth something on its own, due to age — but no matter. You start counting the money, more excited than you are embarrassed in front of the clerk.
$100, another $100, $50 ok…so what? It’s free money to you! Another $50, yet another, a single (crap!), no, wait! $20, $20, a bunch of $20 bills….even before counting it all, you realize this isn’t quite the jackpot you’d hoped. In the end you total up all this newly inherited cash:
Did someone steal from the box? You’re happy, but underwhelmed. Based on the letter — how on earth would these people have paid off their house, plan on building another, and talk about wanting to eat steaks and drink wine every day? Something feels off. You notice a handwritten piece of paper that shows an accounting for what’s in the box — the figure matches. Oh well.
You remember the gold piece and feel a little better. You figure your haul is probably around three grand. You decide to keep the personal effects, nothing fantastic, but it feels weird to put those on E-Bay, since you’re the last one that could get them, within the family at least.
What happened? You realize the value of money changes over time. You recall your own parents bitching about things costing so much while growing up; you remember when you were a toddler, your uncle buying some brand-new car for under $10,000 — then you think you know what’s happened.
You pull out your phone and find a calculator for the value of money over time. You realize our money isn’t worth shit now. You’re not even completely sure exactly what you’re disappointed in.
The clerk hands your ID and Social Security card back.
You sigh, but smile slightly, and walk outside into a light rain, which is not enough to bother you right now. You still secretly wish you were suddenly rich — but at least now you can get those tires you need for your car.