In many Asian countries, including my own Chinese homeland, it's a very deep-rooted belief that you always have to prepare for future calamity.
Wei yu, chou niou, in English, means: "Before the storm, prepare for the rain."
See also: Taking the Retirement Road Less Traveled
That one nugget of wisdom has bred an entire society of savers and planners. According to a recent Forbes article, the Chinese household savings rate — 30 percent of disposable income — is by far the highest among all major economies. In contrast, Americans save somewhere between 3 percent and 6 percent of their disposable income.
This sort of colloquial wisdom is embedded into nearly everything about Asian culture — the way we talk, the food we eat, the medicine we practice and the way we raise our children.
My own 75-year-old mother frequently reminds me of the vast reservoir of knowledge stored within our elders. The challenge, as Confucius might say, is seeking it out.
New York Times columnist David Brooks recently stumbled upon a trove of wisdom when he found a collection of essays that members of Yale's class of 1942 had written for their 50th reunion. Inspired, Brooks asked readers over 70 to send him their own "life reports," sharing what they had learned on their journey.
The result is a thought-provoking collection of stories of hard-earned happiness and insight, stories that remind us all of the value of friendship, kindness and generosity.
I have a similar favor to ask.
As we stand here at the dawn of a new year, it seems the perfect time to look back over your personal history to glean the most important lessons you learned about money and your relationship to it. We're looking for a handful of people whose stories both inspire us and shine a light on the sometimes rocky path toward financial security.
Where were you, and what happened, when you learned your biggest lesson about money? How did you react? How did it work out for you? Submit your story and let's learn from each other in this new year.
Jean C. Setzfand is vice president of financial security at AARP.
You may also like: Test your money instincts. >>