Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

December 2007

Frankie’s Savings Plan

My first job in corporate America was with a conglomerate that has since been sold, split, reformed, divested, reinvented, privatized, downsized, right-sized and still has its brands holding down shelf space all over the world.

Of the more than 30,000 employees in 1963, only a few hundred worked at the corporate headquarters in Manhattan. I was one of them. Frankie was another. He was a real New Yorker. Real New Yorkers not only don’t own cars, they don’t have driver’s licenses: “Thirty bucks a year? Forget-about-it.”

Frankie had the soul of a philosopher, the cunning of a fox and the persistence of an ant. I’ve often wondered how Frankie’s career went. Whatever path he followed I’m sure he continued his habit of 36 years ago that will provide for his comfortable retirement. Here was his routine.

Around 10:30 during our first break, he would ask people where they planned to have lunch. Someone might say, “Chock Full.” Frankie would say, “What? The stew? The cream cheese on date nut? What’s that, a buck and a ‘q’?” Without waiting for an answer he would collect more dining preferences: Irish bars on 7th for corned beef on rye and a couple of drafts, the pizza joint over by Grand Central. With each preference, Frankie would speculate on the price of the lunch while sipping his milk. We got free milk at coffee break because we worked for a conglomerate that owned a big milk company, a big cheese company and a big yogurt company as well as tuna boats in Australia and salad oil processing plants and grain barges and candy and jam makers.

One of our subsidiaries was Kraft Foods (as in cheese, jams, candy and Miracle Whip). Kraft’s experimental kitchen was a floor beneath ours and Frankie ate there free every day, washing down his Velveeta surprise with more free milk (courtesy of another of our subs — Sealtest). Then he would leave the building to walk a few blocks to a savings bank where he would dutifully deposit the money he calculated he saved eschewing coffee at coffee break and stews, soups, sandwiches and suds at one of the hundreds of for-profit lunch servers within walking distance from work.

Frankie told me he did this with everything. He would say, “See this suit? Hundred dollars at Saks, but I got it on sale for $80. I put the $20 in the Bowery. If I didn’t do that I’d only have an $80 suit; this way I got a hundred-dollar suit and $20 in the bank. You can’t save money unless you save it, right?”

We were making about $600 a month. I paid $145 rent for an efficiency on East 80th. Frankie lived with his parents in Queens for zip. As soon as he found I could afford a place of my own he started paying rent to the Bowery Savings or one of his other 15 or so depositories. And, yes, he ate at home but paid $1.50 for every breakfast and $3 for every dinner — not to his mom, but to himself.

You’ve heard it said about people, “He has the first dollar he ever made!” They say that about Frankie. It might be true. Plus interest, of course. You want to break your heart? Figure where your nest egg would be if you did Frankie’s gig from the day you started work. Take your first year’s spending and theoretically bank what you spent on lunches, rent and auto. Then figure you kept up that “savings” rate plus 3 percent for inflation and “invested” it at 6 percent. Warning: Don’t take 8 percent or higher; it’ll break your spirit and you should have bright spirits for the holidays.

Although Frankie has easily amassed a million, basically cutting out lunches, don’t let it get you down. Frankie was really kind of irritating.