Gramps would have been proud

Gramps on a Motorcycle.Dear Lowell,

I am in the midst of moving and my house is filled with empty boxes. Yesterday I was packing  my book  shelf  and  came across a book that my grandfather  gave me more than thirty- four years ago.  The book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, was popular at  the time of my 22nd birthday in 1975. However, my busy college schedule kept me from reading it at that time.  It was one of those things that stayed on my to-do list for weeks before it finally fell off.

Within the pages of my  newly  rediscovered book I found another pleasant surprise –   a birthday card,  a crisp new twenty dollar bill, and a hand written note from Gramps,  “Stuart, I bet you can’t save this bill for the next 30 days.“

My grandfather died more that fifteen years ago.  He was wonderful man and a major influence in my life.  I am now finally reading one of his birthday gifts, and I am dedicated to saving the other two for my grandchildren.

I am curious to learn how my accidental savings efforts exceeded my grandfather’s 30-day wager. Can you tell me about how long an average twenty dollar bill usually lasts? Thank you.

Stuart S. – Muncie, IN

Hi Stuart-

It sounds like your grandfather was a very wise man:  not only did he give you a book that has become a classical examination of eastern and western philosophies, but he also offered   you a very valuable personal challenge.

I first discovered Robert Pirsig’s masterpiece in 1977 and although I found it a difficult read at the time, it soon became one of my top five all -time favorites.  The book has found its way to many bookshelves and its wonderful aphorisms have been extensively debated for the past three decades. But did you know that Pirsig’s classic has sold over 5 million copies in twenty-seven languages and was described by the press as “the most widely read philosophy book, ever”?  It was originally rejected by 121 publishers – more than any other bestselling book.

As for your grandfather’s wager: It’s the Federal Reserve system that tracks the circulation of all bills in the American banking system. The Fed reports that the average lifespan of a $20.00 bill is about 24 months in the United States these days. Not at all the 30 days that your grandfather bet!

Other denominations and their average lifespan are:

  • $1.00-21 months
  • $5.00-16 months
  • $10.00- 18 months
  • $50.00-55 months (a little over 4.5 years)
  • $100.00-89 months (about 7.41 years!)

Incidentally Stuart, If you are fascinated with the circulation of currency and the flow of money in America, you might want to visit Where’s George?.  From this funky site you can learn to follow the travels of a selected bill as it moves throughout the nation’s economy.

Thanks for sharing your trip down memory lane. I wish you the best of luck.

– Lowell


Where Are You From… ?

Family Picnic in the Park

Dear Lowell,

My father was a construction worker and our family had to move a lot when I was growing up.  We were a large family with five kids, so finding adequate housing was often a real problem.

Some of the places we had to live in were downright dismal, but my mother was always able to make any house feel like it was our home. She would often say, “ We are all together, so that makes this place our home”.

Recently I met a new friend who has lived all of his life (more than 50 years!) in the town where he was born. When he asked me where I was “from” I had to think a few minutes and then I replied, “All over!” Afterwards, I tried to remember all the states I had lived in-it totaled at least 11 – maybe more.

Looking back, my nomadic upbringing was somewhat of a mixed blessing. I did get to meet lots of interesting people and learned early in life to take the initiative when it came to making friends quickly. And yet I always envied those who stayed in one place and could claim of having roots in a community.

My question: How many Americans still live in the same area where they were born?

Vern S. –  San Francisco. CA


Hi Vern-

It sounds like your mother had a special talent for keeping the family bond together during the frequent family relocations.

As you suspect, very few Americans have lived in as many states as you have. In fact, according to a recent nationwide survey by The Pew Center, only one out of seven (15%) Americans have lived in four or more states. Most people stay pretty close to home.

Your new friend belongs to that fairly large segment of the nation’s families that have chosen to stay put. Currently more than one out of every three (37%) Americans live in the same town or city in which they were born and more than half (57%) of all Americans have never moved from their home state.

Those Americans who have chosen to stay put seem to validate your mother’s wisdom. Many of them say that at least 12 members of their extended families live within an hour’s drive of them, and four out of ten said more than 10 relatives live nearby.

But there’s more to this idea of home, it seems. The Pew study revealed that “Home means different things to different people”:

  • Among U.S.-born adults who have lived in more than one community, nearly four-in-ten (38%) say the place they consider home isn’t where they’re living now – it’s somewhere else.
  • For Americans who have lived in at least one place besides their original hometown: 26% say it’s where they were born or raised; 22% say it’s where they live now; 18% say it’s where they have lived the longest; 15% say it’s where their family comes from; and 4% say it is where they went to high school.”

Good luck to you, Vern, wherever home is to you!