The "Pa-Doink" Principle of Personal Savings

By Sarah Winfrey on 13 August 2008 17 comments
Photo: Aussiegall

"Pa-doink" is the sound you hear when something small and heavy hits water. Think about a child throwing a coin into the fountain at a shopping mall: a toss and a pa-doink later, there's one more wish waiting to be granted and one more coin collecting at the bottom of the pool.

I heard a story once about a man whose job it was to clean those coins out of the fountain. None of his supervisors wanted the money. "It's not enough to bother about," they said, and "It's not worth our while," so the man shrugged and took the coins home. He didn't know what to do with them, but he put them in an extra jar his wife had and set them aside for later. Before he knew it (and much sooner than he would ever have predicted), he asked her for another jar, then another and another and another. When the shelf in the closet where he'd stacked the jars fell off the wall because of the weight of all that change, he decided to take it to the bank, where he put it into some simple investments. Twelve years later, the change from the bottom of the mall's fountain put his daughter through college.

Now, I don't know if that story is true, but the man's ideas definitely are.

Recently, my family has had some unexpected financial setbacks. Nothing serious has happened, just life in all its complexity. Things like car repairs and medical bills always add up after a while, but when they all come at once it can be financially frustrating, if not devastating. We haven't had to dip into our savings, but we also haven't had much of anything left over after all the bills get paid. When I look at my checkbook and see that the most I could possibly send to savings this month is $25 or $30, I'm not very motivated. That's what? Maybe a decent meal out at one of the mom-and-pop restaurants we love? A movie or two? What's the point?

But I have sent it to savings, all because of the pa-doink principle.

My $25 from one month isn't going to make us or break us. But the $300 I save in a year might mean the difference between paying the rent and not paying it later on. It might mean we can put a down payment on a new car instead of buying it all on credit. It might even mean a plane ticket somewhere I really want to go. It's still not all that much, but it's also not nothing, which is what I would have if I'd taken the Thai food over the savings.

Hopefully, the day will come soon when I have more than $25 to save every month. But even if it doesn't, I'll save something because even small change adds up.

Do you have a story where lots of something small added up to something big? Share it with us in the comments. We'd love to hear!

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Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

If the fountain is a public fountain they actually take the money for city funds.  At least that's how it is here.  Anyway, that's beside the point.  Bits and pieces of money do add up.  That's why I recycle and get about $5 a month.

Guest's picture

I was going to say a lot of the mall's around here give the change to a local charity, but the principle is the same; the charity certainly doesn't refuse the coins.

Guest's picture

I decided to take my husband on a vacation to las Vegas, so for a year I gave up going to coffee shops with my children ($10 a week) out to lunch ($10 a week) and I started doing yoga at home instead of at a class ($10 a week.) I stuffed all those $10 a weeks into a ING account and a year later we had $1500 and a trip to Vegas.

Guest's picture

I have four laying hens that keep us in more eggs than we need. So I sell a dozen now and then to family and friends. I get $3 per dozen. Also, I bake all our own bread. It's good enough that friends and family also buy bread and a few other baked goods from me. I don't charge a lot compared to the market rate.

But I usually put all that cash into an envelope that stays on top of the fridge. (Occasionally, when I meet my "clients" at the farmers' market, the cash gets spent immediately.) When I need to buy 50lb. bags of either flour or chicken feed, the money comes straight out of that envelope. And even though I don't put *all* of the money from my egg and bread sales in there, I can always cover the costs of flour and feed from that envelope of cash. In fact, right now I've got a surplus of $79 in there.

So essentially, with a little work on my part, I get free eggs and bread because the material costs are paid for by other people. The dollar amounts are small, but they're more than enough to cover my costs for these two staples of our diet. When you're watching your food budget closely, free eggs and bread can go a long way.

Guest's picture

I just got laid off a few weeks ago, but when I was working, I was saving (relatively painlessly) by having first $25, then $30, then $35 deposited into a high-yield Capital One savings account every 2-week pay period. I figured I'd keep increasing it until it started to "hurt." I'm almost 60 years old and single. (I'm also pursuing an age discrimination suit against my former employer via the EEOC.)

Guest's picture

It was astonishing when I figured out how much I was spending a year at Starbucks. I had a Starbucks in the same building as my office and would buy a Grande Americano and blueberry scone everyday. That came to $5.50 I would also have an afternoon coffee and cookie and spend another $4-5. It added up quickly and when I reviewed my American Express statement at year end I was shocked! I spent at least $2,340 a year. Probably more, as I also went to Starbucks at our local Safeway on the weekends.

Now I brew coffee at home and probably spend less than 25 cents a pot.

Guest's picture

what a great post to keep us all motivated even if we can only save a small amount of cash each month!

Guest's picture

Your post brought up a very vivid childhood memory: On a family vacation we went to Tijuana. They had a fountain there, where American tourists had tossed their coins. Except the coins weren't there anymore. Just clean circles in the dirty bottom of the fountain.

We were only in Tijuana for one afternoon, but I learned a lot that day.

Will Chen's picture

It is wonderful to see you around again Sarah.  We've missed your optimism and gentle spirit.  =)

Guest's picture

When working and single I'd dump my change into a restaurant sized pickle jar on the floor after getting home from work. It got to be so heavy I decided to take it into the bank and translate it into "real" money. It was over $125.

This last year we saved the loose change from grocery shopping in a jar and split it among us for a little fun vacation money.

The fellow putting his daughter through college on fountain change and interest is totally believable. It could easily have been $10 a day, $50 a week, $2,600 a year, plus compound interest.

Sarah Winfrey's picture guys have some great stories...chickens and fountain donations and TJ and Starbucks and surprises. Thanks for sharing them with me. And I think it's cool that some people have come up with places to send all that money that's awesome.

Hi's good to be here ;)

Guest's picture

I like articles like this. Small does add up over time and I have experienced this again and again. That's the goodness of saving bit-by-bit - you get the joy of seeing how much you have saved over time and the surprise that goes along with it.

I have a handy little chart over at my website that deals with just this: The Handy Little Savings Chart. Enjoy! :)

Guest's picture

recently went to the bank with loose change accumulated by removing it from my wallet for about a year, and came out with $23. :)

Guest's picture

But somehow getting motivated to save such a small ammount is harder than being motivated to save $100 a month. It's just harder not to 'oh, just this once' it if it's not a significant ammount..


Guest's picture

That's what I save. I never spend a $1 bill...ever. If I want a candy bar or soda, I break a $5 bill. If I go shopping and buy an item for $5.25...I break a $10 or $20. I haven't spent a $1 bill in over 3 years. Now I have almost $5k in $1.00 bills, and it's too much of a pain to exchange them into larger bills, and if I did, I'd just spend the money on something I don't need.

So I keep putting them away. I realize not everyone can do this, but it's my way of saving $$. Dollar bills are easy to spend, but when I gotta pull a $5 or $10 bill out, I stop and think for a I really need this.

Guest's picture

Your comments are absolutely on target. I did this for 18 months, counting up the savings from careful grocery and drugstore shopping: using coupons, shopping sales. I also put aside $2 every time I did laundry. In that time, I saved close to $3,800.00. Tthat was enough for three round-trip airline tickets (one of them a senior fare) to Oregon, plus a rental car, meals spending money and hotel rooms, for five days. We used coupons and discounts for the hotels and car, at big breakfasts at the hotels (food was part of the room rate). I did not miss the money on a daily basis at all.

Guest's picture

I certainly agree and love the title! I'm going to remind myself of the "pa-doink" principle the next time that I get discouraged about sending a tiny bit of money off to savings!