Lessons from the Depression: Take That Job


During the Great Depression, Sam Brody grew up in a Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, apartment shared by two families, three people to a bed.

Today Brody, 88, is retired from the advertising industry and living on Connecticut’s Gold Coast.

Surviving an extreme recession is one thing. Eventually retiring in style is another. Brody’s experience during such uncertain times can teach us a lot about managing our own finances and the importance of saving today.

“You knew there was a rainy day coming up sometime,” says Brody.

During the Depression, it was routine for many to wear hand-me-down clothes, and for children to make - not buy- toys.  Brody remembers his uncles peddled women's hats on the Coney Island boardwalk. (They made the swami-style hats with scraps from the knitting factory where they worked the night shift.)

Brody took time to tell MainStreet some more of the lessons he learned during the Depression.

Great Depression Lesson No. 1: Take whatever job you can.
Brody always had three or four jobs during high school and college, where he studied electrical engineering. He worked as a bus boy and a waiter at a resort in New York’s Catskill Mountains, delivered tuxedos and babysat.

“Now you probably get a job on a ship, these Carnival [cruise]  ships, and be a waiter on those things,” Brody said. “There’s no stopping you.”

Brody also served in the U.S. Army during World War II, took advantage of the G.I. Bill to go to Brooklyn College, and then worked as an engineer for Westinghouse in New Jersey. In the 1950s he moved to advertising, representing illustrators and photographers, and later producing commercials.

Even later in his career, Brody took on more than one job. During the 1970s, Brody lost one of his big ad clients, and while he got re-established, he sold ladies’ coats at a Long Island flea market on the weekends to pay the mortgage on his seven-room house in the New York City suburbs.

Great Depression Lesson No. 2: Invest, but wisely.
Brody didn’t have the misfortune of a tanking real estate market. He and his wife bought a house in Great Neck, N.Y., for $33,000 in 1963, and sold it 32 years later for $400,000.

Brody also invested in the stock market, but did a lot of research on the companies and their CEOs before handing over his money.

“You’re investing in people,” says Brody.

When making $150,000 a year, Brody eventually socked away nearly $90,000 for his two children’s college tuition from the time they were youngsters. He also invested in U.S. Treasury bonds. “Safe stuff,” says the economical Brody.

Great Depression Lesson #3: Try not to keep up with the Joneses.
Although Brody worked in advertising, that didn’t translate into rampant consumerism. Brody put away money when he could, and didn’t touch the money he had put in the bank when he decided to make a purchase.

He remembers that kids used to be able to build their own radios. It's very different from today, when trying to get the latest smartphone can set you back hundreds of dollars.

“Too many guys looked in other guys’ backyards,” Brody said. “I didn’t.”

These days, he can enjoy all the time he wants in his own.




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