Vintage ... a 1928 money box based on the Commonwealth Bank's headquarters.

Vintage ... a 1928 money box based on the Commonwealth Bank's headquarters.

Thrift would appear to be an outdated concept in these days when money is well and truly spent before it registers in your online deposit box.

We are fast approaching a cashless society but experts in the ancient art of saving money are trying to teach younger generations some degree of financial responsibility. Perhaps we adults also need some re-education.

A money box still has appeal to kids living in a cashless society. 

Three years ago the Commonwealth Bank embarked on a major ''reinvigoration'' of its school banking system. In 2009 only 75,000 students were still involved in school banking programs. There are now about 260,000 students involved at 3100 schools across Australia. The bank's target is to pass on the basics of financial literacy to 1 million Australian kids through programs such as StartSmart and the Thrift program.

A 1960s ceramic piggy bank.

A 1960s ceramic piggy bank.

The Thrift program teaches the new generation of cyber kids about saving and spending.

This starts with getting them to handle money. The real stuff, as in coins.

"The child still needs to understand the concept of money, to touch it," says the head of school banking for the CBA, Lisa Cartwright. She encourages parents to give their younger children a small amount each week - 50¢ will do - and get them to deposit it themselves.

This can be a confusing experience. One young girl complained that the banking officer had stolen her money and wouldn't give it back. Once that problem is resolved the aim is to teach kids to save money before they spend it - something a lot of adults have problems with. Rewards programs are established where they receive tokens for saving certain amounts. The tokens can then be swapped for something tangible, such as a USB flash drive.

Eventually, children are encouraged to bank online with their parents' supervision. This generally happens about the age of 16, although some have opened accounts earlier.

The Commonwealth Bank is celebrating its centenary this year. Founded in 1911, its first branch opened in Melbourne on July 15, 1912. Sydney headquarters were established in 1916.

The bank's involvement with school banking dates back to 1924, although an advertisement dated 1922 promotes the thrift concept for children (see left).

The centenary inspired the bank to dig through its archives and here it discovered a treasure trove of vintage money boxes. Examples from 1928 were the first to be based on its former head office at 120 Pitt Street. Such was the popularity of this design (they are still produced today) that they have been described as "an icon of Australian commercial life".

The early ones, made of heavy gauge tin, are especially rare because they were designed to be opened with a can opener by a teller. Customers were not trusted to withdraw their own money.

The bank has since discovered that a money box still has appeal to kids living in a cashless society. It is a powerful tool for saving and many adults keep the one they had as a child for sentimental reasons. A money box timeline has been set up on the bank's centenary website and the box that triggers the most nostalgic response will show which generation you belong to.

1962: Stylised ceramic pigs in eight different colours were sold at the bank's Royal Show agency, priced at three shillings each.

1966: A series of brightly coloured elephants with the slogan ''Get with the Strength'' was introduced. These had to be cut open to rescue the contents.

1980: R2D2 and Darth Vader boxes were released.

1988: The orange Dollarmite container was introduced.

2008: Here comes the Platybank.

There are now large numbers of money-box collectors. Tins from before the war have always been considered valuable but now the early plastic ones are also in demand, with huge numbers trading on eBay. Condition is paramount and the difference can be considerable; $10 for used, up to $100 for mint.

The most valuable are those still in the original packaging.