Show Me The Money II (4/1/2022)

In the 1996 movie Jerry McGuire, one of the characters played by Cuba Gooding Jr. shouts “Show Me the Money”. Nearly 100 years ago agriculture teachers might have said the same thing to their students. The teachers were imploring their students to save money by depositing money in the FFA Thrift Clubs.

If you were to visit an agricultural classroom in the 1930s you would probably see a poster on the wall listing the purposes of the FFA (See figure 1). Item 10 was “To encourage and practice thrift.” Why was this important and how was it implemented? In this Friday Footnote, we will explore the “Thrift” emphasis once important in the FFA.

Figure 1. 1930 era poster of the Purposes of the Future Farmers of America. Note purpose 10.

The Need for Thrift!

The National Future Farmers of America was officially created on November 28, 1928 when 33 delegates from 18 states met in Kansas City, Missouri, and adopted a constitution for the new organization and elected officers. But within a year, American was plunged into a financial depression. The stock market crash in October of 1929 is typically recognized as the start of the Great Depression.

The stock market crash sent Wall Street into a panic and millions of investors lost all their money. During the next several years, consumer spending and investment dropped. By 1933, when the Great Depression reached its lowest point, some 15 million Americans were unemployed and nearly half the country’s banks had failed.

The prices paid for agricultural crops had dropped dramatically all during the 1920s. If this wasn’t bad enough, the dust bowl drought and dust storm blizzards of the 1930s were ravaging the heartland (See the Friday Footnote for July 24, 2020). It shouldn’t take a genius to figure out why the FFA needed “To encourage and practice thrift” as one of the purposes of the FFA.

The Early Days of FFA Thrift Clubs

Even before the National FFA came into being, many states had organized state associations of vocational agriculture students, and some were “practicing thrift.” At the organizational meeting of the national FFA, Hampton Campbell of the Future Farmer of Virginia reported that sixty thrift banks were in operation in Virginia with a total of $52,000 invested in savings accounts and $80,000 invested in farming. The Program of Work for the FFV for 1928-29 was to have thrift banks in all chapters.

At the 1929 National FFA convention, it was reported that only six states had thrift banks. The program of work committee recommended that 85% of FFA chapters should have thrift banks. Was this goal reached?

At the 1930 National FFA convention, it was reported that 27% of state chapters had thrift clubs. These clubs had savings of $310.512.65. There was $1,462,108.51 invested in farming programs and there was $284,726.78 in other investments. The program of work for 1930-31 again had a goal of 85% of the FFA chapters having thrift clubs.

In 1931 W. A. Ross, FFA Executive Secretary reported (FFA Convention Proceedings, 1931, p. 30) “…it is very evident that the following items need to be given more consideration and study by the State Associations and local chapters: (a) Establishing and maintaining Thrift Banks.” Only 18 states had reported having thrift banks with 40% participation.

During the next several decades the concept and implementation of “thrift” in the FFA was an ideal that was promoted.

What Were Thrift Clubs and How Did They Work?

An article in The State (Columbia, SC newspaper) dated October 21, 1930 reports that many of the Future Palmetto Farmers clubs had organized thrift clubs. The agricultural students were encouraged to save or invest one-third of their income in the clubs.

The Deer Lodge FFA chapter in Montana had three major goals in 1931 – 1.) have a class livestock project, 2.) have 100% participation in the thrift club, and 3) have 10 FFA members on the school honor roll. An article in The Montana Standard (Butte, February 5, 1931, p. 9) explained how the thrift club worked:

Each week on a set day, 10 minutes are used by the members to make their deposits with the treasurer of the organization. Each depositor is provided with a bankbook. The treasurer makes his deposit in a bank once a week. The purpose is to encourage thrift.

A list of students who had joined the Deer Lodge thrift club followed with the conclusion, “There are 34 members of the organization, and it is expected that the thrift club membership will be 100 per cent in the near future.”

The Coquille, Oregon FFA Thrift Club was featured in a newspaper article in 1931 titled “Coquille Thrift Club Commended in Magazine Story” (The World, Coos Bay, January 15, 1931, p. 1 & 3, See Figure 2 ). The article describes how the Coquille High School FFA Thrift Club was featured in a recent edition of “The Future Farmer” which appears to be a state FFA publication. There was a photo of the FFA treasurer making a deposit at the local bank in the Future Farmer article.

Figure 2. From The World, Coos Bay, Oregon, January 15, 1931. Ctrl + enlarges.

The News and Observer newspaper in Raleigh, NC carried a much more detailed description of how the Young Tar Heel Farmers (YTHF) thrift clubs worked and why the thrift clubs were important. Following are excerpts from the article titled “Young Farmers Earn and Learn” (November 5, 1933, p. 3):

Encourage Thrift

Written into the program of each of the 177 chapters of the Young Tar Heel Farmers is the provision “to encourage each boy to have a savings bank account and to put into the bank each year at least one-fourth of what he makes from his home practical work such as the growing of crops livestock and managing the farm”

Therefore each Young Tar Heel Farmer chapter has a thrift club. Much like a regular bank the chapter thrift club has its officers such as president, vice-president, secretary, and cashier The chapter thrift club works like this: On a certain day each week, the members of the club meet to make their deposits or withdrawals. The chapter cashier accepts the money makes the proper entry in a ledger and then enters the item in the boy’s thrift account book, a booklet especially prepared to enable the boy to have his own record.

The chapter thrift clubs have the endorsement and cooperation of the North Carolina Bankers Association as this organization for several years has furnished free the thrift booklet to the boys.

After the boys have made their deposits and withdrawals the chapter cashier goes to a local bank to deposit the money. In some cases the cashier does not handle the money but keeps a record and the boys deal directly with the local bank.A feature of the meeting of each local thrift chapter is when a local bank makes a series of talks to the boys on thrift and investments.

Now the booklet used by the boys has space for savings, investments in farming and other investments. A page from the ledger of a chapter cashier is typical of the thrift program: Deposited on savings $95; invested in seed and fertilizers $15; one share of stock $50.

Learn Business Methods

Some of the reasons for the thrift club and encouraging the boys to have a bank account are:

(1) By going to the bank, making their deposits and meeting the bank officers the boys will learn more about the purpose and operation of banks. Therefore when they become farmers and need the help of the bank they will have no fear of timidity about making known their wants.

(2) The purpose of the savings or bank account is not merely to hoard money but to encourage thrift and put the boy in a position to benefit from opportunities that demand cash. Each Young Tar Heel Farmer as a part of his course in vocational agriculture in his high school, is required to grow some crop or care for some of the animals or do some other form of practical work on his home farm in order to put into practice the principles learned at school. One of the first things each boy proposes to do is to use the money he has saved to put his home practical work or farming on a cash basis thereby avoiding time prices for supplies and equipment.

(3) The booklet in which the banker enters the boys’ deposits also contains their expenses and incomes from farming and other investments. In the event a boy does not have enough money in the bank to put his farming for the year on a cash basis, the banker, by looking at these statements a has an opportunity of determining whether he can afford to make a loan to the boy.

Following are a few items regarding FFA Thrift Clubs that were found in newspapers from the 1930s:

  • The Vernon FFA won the 1937 statewide Thrift Contest in Alabama and thus were entertained on a three-day outing at Camp Cosby near Birmingham. (The Montgomery Advertiser, June 30, 1937)
  • Warren Pearson of the Woodruff (SC) Palmetto Future Farmers received a prize for saving the most money in the chapter thrift club in 1936. (The Greenville News, June 5, 1936)
  • The Little Valley High School FFA in New York was believed to be the first club in Cattaraugus County to form a thrift club. (The Oneonta Star, October 19, 1934).
  • In 1936 the Scott FFA in Louisiana organized a thrift club with the savings to be used for a trip to Grand Isle in the summer. The FFA members were divided into two groups (the Reds and Blues) with the group having the most savings winning a prize. (The Daily Advertiser, Lafayette, October 3, 1936)
  • The Gold Sand High School Young Tar Heel Farmers have been given use of an old school building for club rooms and laboratories for the vo-ag program. One room was set up as the “Bank Room” for use by the Thrift Club. (The News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, April 7, 1931)
  • The members of the Benton (LA) Future Pelican Farmer Thrift Savings Club expected to save 40 percent of their income in the club. (Bossier Banner-Progress, February 20, 1930)
  • The Weldon Valley FFA was chartered in Colorado in 1936. Thirteen boys signed the charter on October 13 and adopted a plan of work with 13 goals. So, what was the name of their thrift club? – The Lucky 13 Thrift Club. (Greeley Daily Tribune, December 9, 1936)

The American Thrift Army

It would be neat to say the FFA was the first to advocate for thrift and thrift clubs, but that wouldn’t be true. During World War I, thrift became a common household word. The public was encouraged to be thrifty to help win the war.

Starting in 1918 the treasury department sold thrift stamps (see Figure 3) to help finance the war effort. The stamps cost twenty-five cents each. When sixteen thrift stamps were collected, they could be exchanged for War Savings Stamps or Certificates which generated four percent interest (compounded quarterly) and were tax-free.

Figure 3. A 1918 era Thrift Stamp.

In 1919 Colorado 4-H Club members received the statewide Boys’ and Girls’ Club News. Each issue contained a word that had been purposely misspelled. To each boy and girl finding the misspelled word, a thrift stamp was given.

To promote the sale of thrift stamps among school children an organization known as the American Thrift Army was created. When a student had collected and exchanged 16 thrift stamps, he or she received an American Thrift Army pin (see Figure 4). The outer ring had the phrase “American Thrift Army” and the inner ring surrounding a cornucopia said “Every Boy and Girl a Banker.”

Figure 4. American Thrift Army pin

There were ranks in the American Thrift Army (See Figure 5). Members were expected to recruit others into the Army. The new recruits (known as Associate members) had to sign a card indicated they would invest in at least one War Savings Stamp (16 thrift stamps), practice thrift, and encourage others to join the American Thrift Army. The ranks were:

  • Second Lieutenant – Recruit 10 associate members
  • First Lieutenant – Recruit 20 associate members
  • Captain – Recruit 30 associate members
  • Major – Recruit 50 associate members
  • Lieutenant Colonel – Recruit 100 associate members
  • Colonel – Recruit 200 associate members
  • Brigadier General – Recruit 300 associate members
  • Major General – Recruit 500 associate members
  • General – Recruit 1000 associate members

Figure 5. An American Thrift Army button for a Major.

Concluding Remarks

In the first part of this Footnote, we identified that promoting thrift was found in the early Programs of Work in the FFA. The word “thrift” has occurred and disappeared at varying times over the decades in the FFA program of work and as part of the aims and purposes of the FFA. The 2000 FFA manual lists thrift as one of 10 purposes of the FFA on the back cover. Regardless of whether or not “thrift” is a current buzzword with the FFA, there is still a need, even today, to encourage our FFA members to practice thrift.

National Financial Literacy Month is celebrated in April, which is a great opportunity for us to check and promote our financial situation and skills. During April a number of the Friday Footnotes will focus on financial literacy and agricultural education.