My Grandma’s Ledger Books Remind Me of Her Financial Lessons

7 Dec


In 1985, when I moved into my house, my mother sent me some of my grandparents’ furniture that had been promised to me. Included in the furniture was an old radio cabinet that had been turned in to a shelved cabinet with the radio removed. Inside the cabinet were some of my grandmother’s ledger books and other items. My Mom had not cleaned it out. She sent it to me filled with the stuff she did not want to deal with by herself.

Thirty years later, I still have the radio cabinet and the ledger books. And at times I look into the books to realize how far my grandparents came in their journey as immigrants. How their strength became part of our lives.

My grandmother came to America by herself from Poland when she was 16 years old. She met my grandfather and married him when she was 19, about 1925.  She went to night school and learned English. They opened a bakery and became successful in business. They also owned a small bungalow colony in the Catskills. They were able to bring some family members over before the Holocaust and they donated to many charities. During the Depression they allowed families to buy food on credit, knowing that they would not be getting anything from many of these families.

My grandfather left Europe when he was 18. His journey to America took two years. He married my grandmother when he was 25. And he had a bakery and owned property.

My grandparents are the American success story. As immigrants who came to the United States with nothing in the early 1920s, they built a good life. The ledgers I found in the old radio cabinet show their desire to save and make their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren better. The ledgers go from 1959 to 1968 and show every purchase of stock and every bank deposit and interest. It shows how their portfolio grew during these years.

I still remember spending time with my grandmother on what I called her ‘bank tour.’ Grandma Thelma did not totally trust banks. She had lived through the Great Depression. So she kept her money in a variety of banks. And at the end of each month she would take her bank deposit books to each bank to get the interest amount stamped into the book. It was an all day event, with a break for lunch. I remember her showing me my book and letting me see how much I had. She would tell me that you start with a little bit, and it keeps on growing.

Grandma was a true believer in saving your pennies. In fact she saved every silver coin that came into their bakery. When she passed away, we found silver dollars, silver half dollars, silver quarters and silver dimes hidden in every purse and pocketbook and coat pocket in her home. Those were worth more as they aged. More than they would have been worth in a bank. She also had several ‘pushka,’ little hoards of cash hidden around the house.  You never knew when you needed a bit of cash.


The ledger books were her way to keep track of every cent they had. She often bought 20, 25 or 50 shares of a stock. She kept records as she bought more or sold a stock that she no longer liked. She wrote down how much each stock was worth when a statement came. There were no computers then, so she kept all her information written in a ledger book.

My grandmother loved to play the stock market. And these ledger books show exactly what she bought, when she bought it and when she sold it for how much. Even the serial numbers of the stock certificates are written in the books.

I love looking at her handwriting. It was excellent when she was young. Every page was organized. And when she sold a stock she would cross it out and write sold across the entry. I can see her analyzing every purchase and sale. Grandma was a force to be reckoned with. I would have hated to be her stock broker!

For example in 1957 she had 25 shares of Con Edison that she purchased for $1123.23.   She sold two shares in 1960 for $156.27 and two shares in 1961 for $100. I am assuming she needed to buy something then, and needed the cash. I cannot understand any other reason to sell just a few shares. But then she sold the rest of her 21 shares in December 1964 for $2019.95. She made money. Altogether she doubled her money! On November 30, 1966, she bought 25 shares again for $857.19. I wonder if she made more. I don’t know if she sold this, or it stayed in my grandparents’ estate. The entries end in 1968. I wonder if she had a new way of keeping track?

I love that she owned 50 shares of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, as I live in Kansas. She bought it in January of 1968 for $1469.50. Who knew? She bought many different stocks and bonds. Grandma believed in a diversified portfolio. That is apparent.

Grandma ran the business. And she was smart. Grandpa ran the bakery. He never really learned to read English. So he relied on Grandma to take care of the finances. And she did. She loved to discuss the stock market with certain select people. I think they liked speaking with her as well because she was so knowledgeable.

From my grandmother I learned to be aware of my financial situation. I learned how important it was to save money and invest wisely! I learned that it was correct and smart for any woman to know exactly what the family financial situation was and where all the investments are located. In fact, I learned it was a woman’s right to know.

This has been a guiding force in my life to be honest. As I see other women in situations that are so stressful. Some times due to divorce, sometimes due to the death of a spouse, I have seen women who have no idea where their investments are and how much they really have to support them. My grandmother would have been horrified.

The ledger books filled with my grandmother’s writing and investments are a reminder of my grandparents’ success and their investment in all of our futures.   They were able to leave a financial inheritance to both of their children and a little something to each grandchild. But most of all I am thankful for the lessons on savings, investing and knowledge that my grandmother taught to me.

3 Responses to “My Grandma’s Ledger Books Remind Me of Her Financial Lessons”

  1. Amy December 7, 2015 at 7:45 pm #

    What amazing things your grandmother accomplished. Coming to the US as a teenager and educating herself in such depth about financial matters far beyond what anyone would have expected of a woman then or even today in many cases. She must have been incredibly smart. What a great role model!

    • zicharon December 7, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

      She was a strong and independent smart woman!

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