Christmas In 1956 (And Why I Know About It)

Several people have asked me where I got my training for being a daily money manager. They ask if I was in the financial field before this, or if I have a degree in accounting. I have had a lot of training in daily money management, but it came from the experience of observing and participating in the daily money management my parents practiced.

It wasn’t until I got into the profession of daily money manager that I learned that my learning was not typical of growing up. Many, many folks grew up and never was taught or observed how to manage their money as they grew up. As we look at the holiday season and being with family, let me share a few memories from this time of growing up and why I learned these skills from folks who practiced it themselves.

My Parents’ Backgrounds

On my father’s side, his family did not have a lot of means, so my father learned the value of money as he helped earn money for the family’s expenses as he grew up. He became a saver and not a spender. On my mother’s side, her parents operated a farm. Her father saw a need for farmers and with three other partners started a feed mill business to supply farmers with animal feed. So, she learned how to do the books at the farm and perhaps at his business as well for some period (alas, neither are still around to ask).

Photo of bookkeeping books

Bookkeeping books from 1954 to 2005

So, when my parents got married in 1956, they both came with good financial management skills. How do I know that? Starting in 1956, they started keeping a record of their income and expenses and those books still exist.

Mom used what she learned which was a bookkeeper’s spreadsheet (she would have probably used Excel if it existed back then). All income and expenses were documented. Here are a few examples from December of 1956 when income was low since dad was still in school and mom was also working.

Logbook entries of expenses in 1956

1956 December Expenses

As you can see, dresses and socks were rather popular gifts for them to give.  In this picture, the Key was H = Household; E = eating (food); A = Auto expenses. This was in my father’s hand, so he was initially doing the expense transactions before mom took it over.

For comparison, let’s take a look at Christmas of 1962 when they had a new baby to take care of, and dad was making enough money to support the family by himself.

1962 expense entries photo

Expenses from 1962

By the way, that $1,787.90 expense to Wilson Auto Imports was to purchase their first brand-new car – a 1962 VW bug – that I learned to drive when I turned 16. And yes, gas was $0.32/gallon and 10 gallons would fill the tank.

What I Observed Growing Up

Receipt box for bills

Mom’s box she kept receipts in until she logged them

As I grew up, I observed mom doing the books regularly. She would enter the check amounts into categories in the accounting book and also enter expenses from the receipts kept in a box (see photo) in columns that represented different categories of expenses. She would then sum each column (category) at the end of each month and could compare against their limits of spending.  In 1962 the sum for the entire year was less than $6,000.  According to the CPI inflation calculator that is equivalent to $55,589.60 today so that isn’t too far off to what a two-person household might spend now.

Likewise, dad was the one who paid the bills. I have memories of him sitting at the dining room table (which was used more like a desk unless we were having guests) each Saturday morning with the stack of bills and the checkbook and writing out the checks for the week.

Practicing At A Young Age

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to put my training into practice. My parents took a university sabbatical overseas for half a year and they put me in charge of managing their household while they were gone. Now I was the one writing the checks each week. (One in particular I remember is that the monthly payment on the house mortgage was $131.00!) I was the one keeping track of the receipts and making sure there was always enough money in the account to pay the bills.

So, when people ask me if, after a career in computers and engineering, I have qualifications for the job, I can answer with a resounding yes.