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What It Really Means to Save

Think you have a hard time saving money?

Consider the story of Ramadevi Shankar. In the small village of Maruthinagar -- like many similar towns dotting the Indian landscapes -- family wealth is measured in cattle. You see, a healthy cow produces milk, which local villagers buy for 30 cents a quart. Lucky cattle owners can find themselves leading a lucrative franchise: A cow that bears a calf can bring the owner exponentially greater riches.

Early on Ramadevi recognized that a cow meant financial freedom so she set her sights on buying a heifer of her own. For 10 years, she worked long hours as a washer woman, pushing a cart around the village from dawn to dusk and stopping to iron neighbors clothes. It took a decade, but Ramadevi saved $135. Yet those long years of toiling put her $90 shy of being able to afford a cow.

When SHARE (a micro-finance lending organization that provides loans for the poor) heard of her story, she was granted a $70 loan, which she added to her savings. Relatives who learned of her hard work and $20 shortfall soon pooled their money so she'd have the final installment on a cow.

The investment has proven to be fruitful. The cow produces seven quarts of milk a day, and in the past two years has borne two calves. Writes SHARE: "Ever frugal, Ramadevi wouldn't even consider selling the calves. Instead she's raising them, an investment in the future of her growing dairy business."

Said the reader who sent me the story: "I thought that this story was a tremendous example of perseverance in saving for the future that could be an inspiration to the rest of us."

Boy, was he right.

Ramadevi lives where the path to financial achievement is pretty straightforward. Work hard, buy a cow, you're in business. Her village life is blissfully free of tax forms in triplicate, cell phone surcharges, and the mind-boggling array of mutual funds to pick from in the typical employee's 401(k) plan.

But don't dismiss Ramadevi's financial achievements. In fact, her story provides a moving blueprint for money success:

Vision: Nike's "Just Do It" slogan may get the hard bodies psyched to go farther, faster, and be stronger. But before any athlete hits the playing field, she has to have a dream. Ramadevi dared to "just dream it." And then she took the concrete steps to achieve her goal.

Determination: It took 10 years of backbreaking labor for Ramadevi to save $135. Even then she was less than two-thirds of the way toward achieving her savings goal. Surely, there were setbacks along the way. Sickness, family issues, costly medical emergencies, local economic downturns. Sounds a lot like life on this continent, doesn't it? We're sidelined by events that scoot our financial goals farther from our reach. But as this story shows, remaining headstrong and focused is the everyday magic that makes dreams come true.

Cooperation: Chances are, Ramadevi wouldn't claim that hers was a life of hardship. In fact, the opposite is most likely true. Her years of hard work demonstrate that she valued opportunity. So that's what the micro-lending organization gave her. It's not a handout: Recipients pay back the loans at interest rates commensurate with those of local banks. Ramadevi proved herself long before she sold her first quart of milk.

Appreciation: Every so often, life hands you a gift -- a windfall just when you need it, a touching note from a family member. When Ramadevi was given the opportunity to come within a stone's throw of her dream, her family members rallied to help make it happen. Appreciation by others -- and by ourselves for the opportunities that arise -- is the grease that keeps us going.

Ramadevi's story illustrates everything that's important about saving and investing for the future. She set a goal, and then set out to achieve it. Her example is one that would make anyone who follows it much richer in every way.

What inspires you to save for the future? Did you get encouraging words from a person you know? Were you moved by a story told to you or scared into saving for the future by watching others struggle? Maybe it's you who brings out the best in everyone around you. Don't keep all the goodies to yourself. Tell us what motivates you to work hard and save for the future on theFools and Their Moneydiscussion board.

Dayana Yochim momentarily considered dairy farming, but consulted her lease, which specified that pets were not allowed. She is the author ofCouples & Cash: How to Handle Money With Your Honey.


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