Remember passbooks? Like me, you may even have some old ones around your house like this one I found. This was how we saved money growing up in Youngstown.
It started for me when I set up my own lawn cutting business and started setting aside money to buy my own stereo. Each week, I would walk down to the Dollar Savings and Trust on Mahoning Avenue, a few blocks from my house (I don’t have that passbook anymore). I’d set aside some money for things like baseball cards and maybe save $10 a week.
The Dollar Savings and Trust on Mahoning Avenue was in a long, narrow building. When you walked in, there was an enclosed office in front, teller’s windows on the left, and on the right, a standing desk with chairs on either side. At the desk, you would fill out a deposit (or withdrawal) slip with your account, date, and amount, using one of those pens on a chain that seemed to work about half the time. Toward the back was a manager’s office and the safe with safe deposit boxes. I went in there a few times with my dad.
After you filled out the slip, you stepped across the aisle to an open teller window. After a while, you got to know the tellers, some who had been there for years. You gave them your money and deposit slip and your passbook. They would write or stamp the date, the kind of transaction, the amount, and your new account balance. Once a month, they also wrote in the accumulated interest in your account. And they would initial each transaction.
What a cool idea! They added money to your account (at that time 4 percent interest!) just for taking care of your money. They even paid you interest on your interest! Someone told me early on that one of the keys to getting rich was working for your money and then letting it work for you. They also said that you wanted others to pay you interest rather than you paying interest to them.
It turns out that banks did not always give customers a passbook. At one time, they just kept their own, handwritten account ledgers. Passbooks gave customers a certain amount of control and access to their own accounts. They also served as identification, much like a passport, which is of similar size.
And now they are largely a thing of the past in most places. Computerization and online banking have eliminated paper records, like passbooks. Now, most funds are deposited, withdrawn, or transferred electronically, and we only go to the bank if we need cash, or maybe a loan (even much of applying for a loan may be done online). Even then, we often use ATMs or drive throughs. I deposit checks with my smartphone. I can’t remember the last time I went into a bank and every time I went there, I dealt with different people than were there on my last visit. Now, I keep track of my accounts through the app on my phone or from my computer. It’s convenient, to be sure, but…
I do miss the personal relationships of the past. You knew the tellers names and they got to know yours. They knew your dad and other family members. It was fun to look at your passbook and see the steadily increasing balance of your account toward your goal of something you wanted to buy, or eventually, saving for college. Savings and scholarships meant I graduated without owing anything.
Passbooks were part of how we learned to save. The habit of going to the bank each week to save a bit of what I earned became a lifelong habit. Compound interest was the first lesson I learned about having money work for me. I felt like the tellers were cheering us on.
I wonder how children learn how to do this today. Looking around, I do see that banks have youth accounts. Often the banks are not as close by, certainly not in walking distance. Things can be done online. I wonder if parents need to be more involved than in the past. I could go to the bank myself, even at age ten, and that felt empowering. It meant I was growing up. In Youngstown.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!