Feed the pig

Remember when it used to be fun to save money? Remember a time when a found penny was a windfall and the satisfying sound that penny made when it landed in a piggy bank?...

Remember when it used to be fun to save money? Remember a time when a found penny was a windfall and the satisfying sound that penny made when it landed in a piggy bank?

An ad campaign launched recently aims to make saving fun again while also persuading a generation of 25- to 34-year-olds to take their finances seriously. The ads star Benjamin Bankes, a "grown-up" piggy bank who in the ads persuades a young office worker and a guy looking at flat-screen TVs to "feed the pig," the campaign's catch phrase, which means pay yourself first or save for the future.

Bankes was created for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants by the Advertising Council, which brought us McGruff the Crime Dog and the Crash Test Dummies. The ads are being sent to TV stations around the country but they're not required to run them, so it's hard to say on what channel they may appear. They can be viewed online at , which also features savings tips, financial calculators and a link to Bankes' very own MySpace page ( www.myspace .com/benjaminbankes) .

You can even sign up for weekly financial tips delivered by e-mail or text message. Warning: The Web site is very loud, with cash register noise and pig oinks at every click.

To me, Bankes -- an actor-turned-pig wearing a pink seersucker suit and a bow tie -- is a startling image. One reader who's seen him said he's "a little freaky." But maybe our generation needs to be scared into saving for retirement. After all, the messages that we're not saving enough and have too much debt are plentiful. Yet 25- to 34-year-olds have lower net worth, less in savings and more debt than the same age group did 20 years ago, according to a study by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.


Each generation has its challenges, and ours is no different. With the rise of housing prices and the cost of college tuition paired with wages that are growing more slowly, some may argue that we can't afford to save and live within our means. Many of our parents have the same problems.

Creators of Feed the Pig know that there are plenty of excuses out there about why we can't afford to put money away for the future or for the unexpected. So instead of focusing on making huge changes to our financial habits, they are hoping to spur us to make small steps to save. Skip one coffee a week. Bring lunch to work more. Use ATMs with no fees. Check out DVDs at the library.

That message resonated with Kim Ruchti, a 30-year-old communications coordinator in St. Paul, Minn. Ruchti rents and is trying to pay off some credit card debt in preparation for buying a house. She thinks the tools at www.feedthe will be helpful, and she likes the site because its existence confirms she's not alone. "Our generation wants everything now and wants to do it all. It's hard to balance," she said. "It made me feel better that other people are like me."

Carl Peterson, 48, a certified public accountant in Richfield, Minn., blames his own baby boomer generation for not teaching kids the value of saving. He hopes the pig will do a better job than parents.

Peterson, who plans to share the site with his young clients and parents with kids in the age group, said his own kids were smitten with the pig. Immediately after checking out Benjamin Bankes and his message, Peterson's 11-year-old daughter asked for a pink piggy bank.

Kara McGuire writes about personal finance for the Star Tribune.

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