Nancy Wurtzel

Article Summary:

The history of the piggy bank, and why it still makes such a timeless gift.

Piggy Banks Through the Ages

Do you remember your first piggy bank? Most adults have fond memories associated with their childhood piggy banks.

They vividly recall the thrill of dropping coins and paper currency into the pig and watching the money multiply. Later, they remember the feeling of amazement when the pig’s contents were counted time and again. Finally, they will never forget the satisfaction of buying something with their very own money.

Many great childhood memories are associated with the piggy bank, but how did this manner of saving money become so widely accepted and used?

Who invented the piggy bank? Why did the pig — a muddy, corpulent barnyard animal — become associated with saving money? What made the piggy bank part of so many cultures? Read on, because the answers will surprise you.

While the exact origin is a little uncertain, historians speculate that the concept of a piggy bank started in England during the Middle Ages, probably in the mid-1500s.

At this point in history, metal was still seldom used and very expensive. So expensive, in fact, that common people did not own any metal cooking pots or utensils. Instead, dishes, jars and cookware were made from an affordable and easily available orange clay that was called "pygg."

Families often kept any spare household coins in one of their clay pygg jars, and these containers became commonly known in England as a pygg jar and later a pygg bank.

Several centuries later — probably around the eighteenth century — the name had evolved into piggy bank. Around this same time, a handful of potters began making clay banks in the shape and likeness of the animal namesake, and the first piggy banks were born.

Children and adults were captivated by these new piggy banks and the trend quickly spread throughout England. These early models were usually ceramic and had no hole in the bottom. Sadly, in order to retrieve the money, the pig had to be broken open! As the years went by, someone thought to add a method of emptying the container so the piggy was spared for another round of saving.

The piggy bank eventually became popular throughout England as a whimsical "money-saving" device for young children. The piggy bank isn’t associated with any holiday and it has no religious ties and it is found in many cultures from North and South America to Europe, Asia and parts of Africa.

Children in China have been given lucky piggy banks for centuries as parents encourage their youngsters to save.

In some European countries it is common to give a piggy bank as a gift to both children and adults because it also is thought to bring luck and financial good fortune. In German-speaking countries especially, people gave "Lucky Pigs" as gifts to mark the start of the New Year. Both customs remain in use today.

Piggy banks have always been fun, but many parents are now taking them much more seriously as they teach their children the rewards of saving money.

The piggy bank encourages saving because it provides children a physical place to store their money. And, unlike a savings account — which is a more difficult concept for many young children to understand — the piggy bank is tangible and the funds are readily available. Plus, counting the money will lead to saving more, and the whole process allows the child to experience the gratification of saving money at a very early age.

Many parents make adding to the piggy bank a weekly ritual, especially after a child begins to receive an allowance. An agreed upon portion of the allowance is dedicated to the piggy bank. Parents can then use the piggy to help their child set financial goals. With a little guidance from an adult, the child can dream and plan about when and how to spend the money.

Especially for young children, it’s probably best to select a piggy bank goal that can be attained within a few weeks or months as kids don’t have the patience that adults have. The goal can become more ambitious as the child matures.

The piggy bank can be a first step in creating a "money-smart child." It can act as a springboard for good saving and spending habits as well as the precursor for savings or investment accounts that earn interest.

Piggy bank saving isn’t just for kids. Adults can do it too, and have some fun in the process. Many people have a piggy bank for their spare change. Not a big deal, you’re thinking? Think again. The average person can save more than $600 a year simply by saving their spare change.

It’s pretty simple. Save all of your coins from purchases throughout the day. Always use paper money and keep all of your change — yes, even the pennies! At the end of the day or every few days, just drop the coins into your piggy bank. You’ll need a pretty big one because it will add up faster than you imagine.

Every few months you can roll the money and take it into your bank. Or, if you can’t be bothered you can easily redeem the coins for paper money by using a coin-to-cash machine, located at your local grocery store or mall. However, be advised that these machines will keep a percentage.

Don’t spend the paper money. Sock it away in a safe place at home. When it starts to add up, then open a bank account or another liquid account for safekeeping.

We recommend saving for a year and then making a decision on how to spend your piggy bank money. Perhaps you will choose to spend it on a short vacation, a shopping spree, some spa treatments or buy presents for others. You might opt to donate the monies to charity or a cause that is important to you. The choice is yours, but make sure you have fun mulling over your many choices.

And, when the money is gone, simply start collecting change in your piggy!

Today’s piggy banks are available in all shapes, sizes and colors from ceramic to glass to metal to plastic. Thanks to batteries and computer technology some piggies are even animated and others talk when money is added.

However, the standard, plump, no-frills piggy bank still remains the most popular. They make a great gift for any age person to mark a birthday or another special occasion. It’s a fun, yet meaningful gift that actually can give back — if used correctly!

So the next time you are contemplating a gift for a special baby, child, teen, adult or even a senior then consider a piggy bank.

Nancy Wurtzel is the founder and owner of All About Baby, an online store located at All About Baby offers more than 300 personalized and memorable baby gifts for young children. The site also features interesting and helpful child-related content. Ms. Wurtzel has over 25 years of marketing and communications experience. She consults with small businesses seeking to enter the marketplace or grow their existing e-commerce business.

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