Bob Mitchell: There were ways of paying bills before credit cards

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Did you ever stop to think about the way we spend our money compared to the way purchases were made or bills paid many years ago?

This will all fit into the category of whatever your financial level of living was and especially your source and level of income.

Iím thinking back to my Navy days when Sue was working as a dental assistant in San Diego after training with Dr. Milford Sanders in Cassville. She was making more every two weeks than I was, which in 1952-53 was sure a big help. We lived from payday to payday out of envelopes... so much for rent, groceries, gasoline, entertainment, and seldom travel.

That was probably good training for us during the first two years or our married life together.

Method of payments

Actually, the method of payment was the objective. There was cash payment, which the fortunate used most of the time, there was checking and there was charging. With the exception of groceries, normally charged, and mortgage by check, some people scraped to get along, while some others managed well and got along better.

For those who used checking to pay for their needs, there were universal checks, and pads of various banks on most merchant counters. The universal check had no bank name, which had to be supplied by the buyer in case their checkbook wasnít available. As banks modernized the universal checks disappeared.

At this point, personalized checking accounts arrived on the scene and the blank checks from individual financial institutions soon disappeared.

Universal check experience

Back in 1949, I used a universal check once, in Washington, D.C., while on research duty from Norfolk, Va., I went to visit the Cox family and experienced a near catastrophe. While calling them from a bus station my billfold was lifted by a pick-pocket and all my identification and funds were taken. The next morning Dorsey and Jay Dean Cox took me to their neighborhood grocery store and guaranteed the use of a universal check.

I never did get the billfold or ID back, which caused many difficulties.

Grocery billing

Those were the days long before bar codes and readers when charging groceries meant listing them in a small book with your name on the cover for the seller to list each and every item purchased during that trip to the store. A monthly payment was expected by the grocery store owner at each of the 10 or more grocery stores in town during the early 1950s.

Non-payment meant the person went to another store or to court, often returning to the original merchant once the bill was paid. We never experienced this, but knew others who did.

Credit card arrival

As the business world modernized, along came the plastic credit card, which was as good as cash at most businesses, even when they were first issued, that was if the merchant had acquired a reader. There were only two companies who made the cards available initially. Today, every major corporation or firm doing major business with the public is ready and willing for you to use their card and collect their fees.

There are strict rules to follow, at the end of the month, the bill must be paid or high interest is charged. Yet, there are some folks who carry a wallet full of the cards from various sources.

In Seoul, South Korea

In the Navy, payment of two sea bags, barracks bags for some, were required to pay a bill in Soul, South Korea. This resulted in our office being charged with securing a site and arranging a program for the admiralís staff and flag allowance once when it pulled into the harbor. When the lines were secure at the dock two of us hit the streets to find a spot.

Following a couple of recommendations, we took our choice back aboard ship for acceptance, which was secured. The price was for everything, location, entertainment, open bar and American meal. The price seemed astronomical, but had been accepted by high authority.

At this time South Korean Won value was based on the location of North Korean forces in proximity to the 38th parallel, which was 4,000 to one American dollar. Yep, thatís right 4,000 to $1.

So, the amount needed was requested from a bank in town, and when it came aboard, it was placed in a couple of locked sea bags and placed aboard a Shore Patrol vehicle, which took us to the hall to pay in advance.

Iím not recalling the total price for the bash, it must be the Korean folks did a bang-up job with the affair, and there were no serious incidents once the open bar was limited.

Oh, by the way, there was one regulation for the party, there were no cameras permitted!

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State Universityís Regional Media Hall of Fame.

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