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Saving Painlessly – Lessons From the Old Timers of the Great Depression

There are dozens of downloadable apps available to count your every penny and help you save, however there are simple methods from the past for saving painlessly. Savings is a big deal as the vast majority of American families have less than $500 in the “cookie jar” for emergencies, relying solely on income tax refunds. Upcoming retirees have the “vapors” over savings.

The Savings King - Old Timer Lessons


My late father-in-law saved every dime — literally. The dime is the smallest U.S. coin, but worth 10 times more than its youngest sibling, Penny, and twice as much as younger larger sibling, Nickel. If other family members had loose dimes in their pockets he would make an exchange. Passing at 97, my father-in-law, could easy have given everyone in his hometown a “dime for their thoughts.”


Born in 1916, my father-in-law, lived when silver U.S. coins were first minted in 1920s into the early 1960s. He squirreled away half-dollar 90% silver coins. At one point, when Nelson Bunker Hunt and his two brothers tried to corner the global silver market, silver soared from $11 an ounce in September 1979 to $50 an ounce in January 1980. My father-in-law’s silver coin stash was briefly worth more than $35,000. Against my advice and after arranging a deal with a major buyer, he said he would wait. Silver sells today for about $15 per ounce. Regardless, the “silver lining” — his savings plan never lost value.


Coming through the Great Depression (1929-1939), my father-in-law, had a distrust of banks. He used the “No. 10 Envelope Method” to manage and pay his bills.

On payday, he would go to the bank to cash his check, requesting mostly smaller denominations. He would then go home and distribute the cash into envelopes marked as electric, garbage, cable, water, auto insurance, groceries, etc. He always was ahead of his bills so he would generously place enough cash into each envelope to cover the expected amount of the next bill.

When a bill was due he preferred to pay in-person with cash and receive a receipt.

If he came up short on a specific bill (rarely) he would adjust the other envelopes accordingly. If he over-budgeted (often), the remaining cash would go into a special envelope labeled for my late mother-in-law. It was her private shopping slush fund. Funny, she loved shoe sales and always had the cash to cover her whims.

Savings Bonds

My father-in-law often loaned money to his six children and their spouses. When my late wife graduated high school he loaned her around $2500, in cash, to buy a new 1971 Mercury Comet. For repayment he had her setup a U.S. Savings Bond payroll deduction of $25 per week, payable to him. He also had U.S. Savings Bonds deducted from his paycheck for many years. Needless to say, after many years, his U.S. Savings Bond collection was not measured in dollar value, but the height of the stack in inches.


When it comes to saving on buying stuff my father-in-law was legendary. He studied the weekly store flyers and clipped coupons, walking a few extra blocks to save a dime on a bag of potatoes, a nickel on a draft beer, and loved haggling at garage sales. Most of all he loved refillable milk, beer, etc. bottles with a great disdain for wasteful plastic.

My father-in-law was not a high-paid wall street executive or owner of a lucrative business. He worked as a mail clerk for the U.S. Railway Post Office (RPO), retiring early. He collected retirement nearly twice as long as he worked.

While an “Old Timer” he was never a “Tight Wad” with family and friends. Old habits, good or bad, are hard to break: therefore he saved until his passing.

Never buying a lottery ticket, as part of his savings plan, his financial advice: “the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math. “