In Personal Finance From Harry S. Truman
S. Truman was our 33rd President. Just like so many other Presidents
before him he had many meaningful accomplishments and contributions to our
country. However, a Presidentís history with personal finance is one
aspect of every Presidentís life that can be particularly interesting.
In Harry Trumanís case, the small slice of his personal history regarding
financial matters, presents two primary lessons to be learned. Truman
never seemed to accumulate large assets that guaranteed economic security.
He did, however, have an incredible work ethic and ambitious drive, which
translated into regular moves into higher paying elected positions, even
without a college degree. It would be easy to get torn on the question of
learning what to do or what not to do financially from Truman. Perhaps,
after you read his
personal history, you will find a life lesson you can apply to your own
Harry Truman's Salary History
As a child Harry Truman worked on his parents successful farm. They were
not poor or rich, but probably somewhere in between until 1901 when his
father lost the family savings and assets in a financial investment.
In 1903 Truman was working
as a banking clerk, but was good enough at his job to move from $35.00 a
month to $100.00 a month.
1917 Truman was stationed in France as an artillery officer during
World War I. He was most likely paid about $100.00 a month. (The
average salary during this decade was $62.50 a month). It was during the
war that Truman had moderate success in retail! He ran his own canteen
selling non-Army issued items to soldiers. (Truman: His Life And Times, Burnes, p74) (Truman, David McCullough, p107)
Once Truman returned from the war he moved in with his wife and
mother-in-law and noted that the only possessions he owned at that time
were a few articles of clothes, things he brought back from his Army days,
and some books. At that time he sold his part of the family farm for
$15,000.00 and invested it into a clothing store that he co-owned with a
In 1921 Trumanís salary was probably close to nothing. He
was living in debt and trying to keep his failing business open.
One point many historians made about this time was that Truman and his
partner agreed to continue paying on the debt they incurred even though
they were forced out of business.
He and his partner committed to pay back all the money, but his partner
gave up in 3 years and declared bankruptcy. Truman continued to pay down
the debt on his own, however. He continued paying down the debt, even
while the Great Depression was occurring, until 1934 when a political
supporter bought his debt allowed him to pay it off for $1,000.00.
In 1922 he was elected Missouriís Jackson County judge and was paid
$3,465.00 per year. (Truman, David McCullough, p160) The average
salary at that time was $1,236.00. Prior to the election he had listed his
total worth at $230.00 (Harry S. Truman: A Life, Ferrell, p102)
In 1925 Truman lost reelection and took a job selling AAA
automobile club memberships for $15.00 each for one year until he was
elected back into a judgeís position. (Harry S. Truman: A Life, Ferrell,
1926 he was elected as the presiding judge and was paid $6,000.00
per year. During that time the average household income was about
$1,300.00 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Truman, David
In 1934 Truman was elected senator and made $10,000.00 a year.
The average salary at that time was about $1,600.00. (Truman, David
McCullough, p221) Also keep in mind that this was during the Great
Depression and unemployment was as high as 25% in 1933.
It is interesting to learn that Truman kept very detailed records of his
expenses, including what he was paying for bus fare and groceries while in
Washington serving as a senator. He would record his mileage, gas, and
lunch expenses and keep those records in his car. Even when he had a
driver after being elected President he had a hard time giving up that
habit. This trait demonstrates that he was concerned enough about
budgeting and managing his money. (Truman, David McCullough, p221 & 405)
In 1944 he was chosen to be the Rooseveltís third vice-president.
His salary jumped to $20,000.00 per year. The average salary at
that time was $2,400.00.
In 1945 Franklin Roosevelt died and Truman became the President of
the United States. His salary was $75,000.00 and then increased
$100,000.00 a year along with a $50,000.00 a year tax free expense
account in 1949. The average salary at that time was still $2,400.00.
(Truman, David McCullough, p928)
In 42 years, Trumanís annual income had increased from $100.00 a month to
over $8,300.00 a month at the time of his presidency; an 8,233%
In 1953 Truman had to take out a loan for living expenses as he
transitioned from the Presidency and into private citizenship. During this
time there was no pension for the President; he qualified for a military
pension of $95.66 per month. (Truman, David McCullough, p928)
In 1954 Truman left the Presidency with little personal wealth to
show. Truman and his wife moved back into a modest Missouri home. Truman
and his wife were the first to receive Medicare subsidy.
In 1954 he sold the rights to his biography for $600,000.00
which would be paid over 5 years, and in 1958 Congress passed a law to
retroactively provide former presidents a pension of $25,000.00 a year.
Trumanís history documents an intense focus on career. He worked in
elected, public positions for decades and excelled at what he did. Truman
advanced because he added value to each position he held. Because of his
regular ďpromotionsĒ into more visible and higher paying positions he and
his family were able to live a more comfortable life as time went on. It
is a valuable lesson for anyone who is paid by someone else. Adding value
to the organization you work for is the best way to be recognized and
rewarded with advancement.
There is another side to the story of Trumanís career, though. With all of
his energy and focus placed on achieving higher stations he invested very
little into his personal economic security. For many years his higher
salaries were counter acted with supporting various family members in need and
paying off accumulated debt. At the end of his career he had only one
truly valuable asset Ė his story. In fact before he was able to capitalize
on that asset he was borrowing money in order to make ends meet as he left
the Oval Office. Truman may be the exception to the rule, however, since
the majority of us will not have a $600,000.00 story to tell. If you
havenít financially planned for the future and devoted all your effort to
only one interest you may be faced with the potential of a lower standard
of living during the time you thought would be your most enjoyable years.
Talking with Harry: candid conversations with President Harry S. Truman
Ralph Edward Weber
Harry S Truman: Fair Dealer and Cold Warrior
Harry S. Truman: A Life
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