A Return To Thrift (#1328)
There will be some of you fallible readers who have no idea what I’m talking about when I use the term “passbook savings,” but maybe you’ll understand after I explain the concept.
In the old days, Americans regularly engaged in something called “thrift.” Part of thrift, besides concentrating on spending less than you earn, revolved around the possession of one, or more than one, little booklets.
These booklets, which fit easily into the palm of the owner’s hand, were called passbooks. They were intended to pass back and forth between the owner of the related savings account and the institution itself. Each time a deposit or withdrawal to the account was made, the banker updated the passbook with the current transaction, the pennies in interest the depositor had earned since the last transaction, and the resulting balance in the account.
Then the owner took the passbook back home, where he or she referred to it often, with the result of elation if the account balance was rising, and something akin to despair if the balance had necessarily fallen. The passbook owner viewed that little book like an autobiography, back in the day. It told the story of his level of personal responsibility, his love and concern for his family, and his optimistic hopes for a future free from dependency on the dubious kindness of the government.
Passbook savings accounts have fallen out of favor, I’m afraid. I myself had one that languished for years like an overtold joke in the bottom of my desk drawer. Could there possibly—-in this day of online accounts with no brick or mortar anywhere to be found—-be any financial instrument more antiquated and hopelessly out of date than the humble passbook?
Honestly, I’ve got some food ration tickets left over from my mother’s teenage years during World War II. I’ve got some old books of Green Stamps, too, which Mom was no doubt saving until she had enough to trade them in for a piece of Pyrex. They are ephemeral pieces of history I’d never part with, and I’d decided to hold onto my passbook to add to the pile of nostalgic relics my children might come to enjoy someday.
But then the unthinkable happened. I decided to diversify out of online savings, and into a couple of ancient accounts I still had open here in Kansas City. And so, as I sorted through the contents of my drawer of artifacts, I found my old passbook.
I’ve sent three deposits through the U.S. Postal Service so far. Each time, I write a physical check, fill out a physical deposit slip in my neatest penmanship (I’ve reverted to keeping meticulously neat records of all our financial transactions. A healthy respect for my money might make more of it want to hang around longer….), and place both pieces of paper inside the passbook. Then I mail them in the postage paid envelope the Savings and Loan provides.
If you think I’m weird, so be it, but the simple thrill of receiving the passbook back in the post several days later——freshly updated with my new higher balance and upwards of several cents of interest!—-makes me want to repeat the whole process again right that very second.
These are old-fashioned values, to be sure. Believe me, I’ve been around the thrift/spendthrift block often enough to know what’s what. But I never anticipated that a time would come again in which I’d receive so much instant gratification from deferred gratification.
All thanks to a little piece of Americana called the passbook savings account.
A piece of Americana whose time may be coming around again.
Posted by Katy on 01/14/09
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