In this column I want to visit a few things that I have seen, read about or heard lately, that have no common thread whatsoever, so please bear with me.

First, remember that a number of discount stores, like Ollie’s and Big Lots, also have friends and family or customer appreciations days, once or twice a year, where you can save 15 to 20 percent off their already good prices on some items. Know your unit and comparative prices and the goods that they regularly sell, and then take advantage of these sales.

Second, in the past we have talked about the many potential personal finance “teachable moments” for children and grandchildren that present themselves literally every week. Regular readers know that in my CARE presentations in the schools, I talk about the need to learn about finances, read everything in detail, ask questions, and do you own math, so that the credit and financial industries cannot easily take advantage of you. We have talked about the Wells Fargo apology tour — established in 1852, and re-established in 2018 — and now comes Citigroup. In June it agreed to pay $100 million to settle charges that it manipulated an important interest rate used to price everything from credit card to mortgages. Once again, this is a teachable moment for everyone. Don’t be taken advantage of, PLEASE!

Third, we have talked a lot in the past about needs verses wants, wishes, luxuries and conveniences in our hyper-consumer society, where the lines between those things have in many ways been blurred for too many Americans. Right, wrong, insensitive or indifferent, I have always thought of nails as the ultimate wants, wishes, luxuries and conveniences. Perhaps it is just once again my age, because in the 1960s, when I was growing up, and the 1970s, when I was married and had a young family, I don’t remember people getting their nails done, or seeing advertised nail salons. According to statista.com, there were 56,386 nail salons in the United States in 2017. To
put that in perspective, I recently counted nine nail salons on Monroe Avenue between Pittsford Plaza Cinema and Highland Avenue in Brighton, a total distance of 2.8 miles, so more than three per mile. And there also are a number of other salons in that stretch, that don’t specifically advertise that they do nails, but they very well may. For me, the point is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting your nails done, as long as it is not in any way responsible for you carrying unnecessary consumer debt and paying more for things because of the interest costs.

Fourth, I always tell students that one of the reasons that they need to start saving now, is because I believe that their generation will have to do something in order to get the national debt under control, which most likely will mean higher taxes, even though they had nothing to do with creating the debt problem. Without getting into the weeds of it all, even though in 1946, just after World War II, the year that I was born, the ratio of the debt to the country’s gross national product hit an all-time high of 118.90 percent, between 1940 and 2017 the average ratio was 61.70 percent. In 2017, the ratio was 105.4%. In my opinion, this is something we should all be thinking and concerned about.

Last, a dear friend recently gave me a 1963 book, written by Ned Seidler, entitled, “The Story of Money." As you would expect, before money there was barter — the exchange of one commodity for another. However, as you would also expect, in most early societies, the inconvenience of barter led to the adoption of some useful commodity as the means of exchange.

The story of the beginning of banking was particularly interesting to me, because as a young commercial attorney in Rochester in the 1970s, I can remember the “stories” about a number of prominent businessmen in town who were alleged to have gold or platinum on deposit with banks as collateral for their loans. Most of us didn’t know for sure if it was true or not — urban legend.

Well, it turns out that simple banking began in Babylonia about 2000 B.C., when loans were made by the temples. It was possible for the Babylonian temples to make loans, because valuables were deposited with them for safekeeping, as was also done in ancient Egypt, India and Greece. The first truly directly collateralized loans — it sounds familiar.

By the way, according to sunshineprofits.com, since the Great Recession, gold is increasingly being used as collateral around the world, so that contrary to the common beliefs that gold is not a productive asset, it may be used as collateral, as well as being lent and borrowed. The cost of borrowing gold is the gold lease rate, while the interest rate on a U.S. dollar loan secured by gold as collateral is called the gold forward offered rate.

A businessman friend recently asked me what I thought about investing in gold and precious metals. As always, I said that I don’t give investment advice because I am not qualified to do so. I did, however, say that at least gold will never be worth zero. I didn’t think then about the ability to use it for collateral, but I will send him a copy of this column.

Speaking of banking, he most famous Italian bank was the Medici bank, established by Giovanni Medici in 1397. The oldest bank still in existence is Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, headquartered in Siena, Italy, which has been operating continuously since 1472. According to quora.com, the modern banking system started in Venice in 1587, and in the same year the “Banco di Rialto” was established. People could deposit money in this bank and could draw when they needed it. In 1619 "Banco di Giro" took Bank Cheque over the management of this bank. People could deposit even their gold and silver items in this bank for which the bank issued receipts. These receipts were used as currency notes.

In my private legal career before I went on the bench, I represented a number of banks, and of course I am Italian, so I found all of this very interesting. I hope that you did also.

In the next column we will look at Dollar Stores.

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo