What The First Issue of Money Magazine Taught Me

Since Money Magazine recently celebrated their 35th anniversary, I thought it might be useful to go back and look at the inaugural issue of Money Magazine. Cover-dated October 1972, the first issue is in many ways surprisingly similar to Money in its current incarnation – very direct and specific personal finance advice. Here are seven things that really caught my attention.

8 Lessons Learned From the First Issue of Money Magazine

1. The majority of financial firms advertising in the issue are completely defunct

Brokerages and various investment opportunities took out many, many ads in this issue. The vast majority of them are now defunct – I tried tracking down several to see what became of their business but they seem to have completely folded. The only ones to have survived are the monsters – Bank of America and American Express, most notably.

What does this mean for you? There’s a decent likelihood that the companies managing your money right now are not going to be around when you go to retire. Interesting thought, isn’t it?

2. Credit cards were very, very different

The entire issue only had two advertisements for credit cards, one for American Express and the other for BankAmericard (the forerunner to Visa). The American Express card featured a straight 12% annual interest rate. The best part? This fine print from the American Express ad:

The undersigned aggres to be bound by the terms and conditions that accompany each Card (original, renewal, or replacement) unless he cuts the card in half and returns both halves.

Cut the card in half and return both halves? I can’t even conceive of a modern credit card issuer wanting to deal with that.

3. A generous budget for a seven day trip for two in the south of France? $500

At first, that’s almost shocking, but when you figure in inflation over the period since 1973, the price becomes $2,327.64, which seems much more reasonable for a solid, not overly extravagant vacation for two in the south of France. It ends up being more of a commentary on inflation than anything else. As I read the article, I realized that it’s a pretty solid travelogue for the time and aspects of it are still applicable today.

4. Ma Bell

The ad for Ma Bell (aka American Telephone and Telegraph) was telling not only of the telephone service at the time, but the fact that there was a stranglehold on long distance telephone service in the United States. Person-to-person long distance calls on weekdays (8 AM to 5 PM) were $3.55 for the first 3 minutes. That’s in 1973 dollars – $16.53 in today’s dollars. Yes, if Ma Bell still ran the show, you would be paying $16.53 for a three minute long person to person call in the United States. (For those unaware, person-to-person means that the operator would verify who was being called – remember, this was the days before caller ID). This rate is actually advertised, meaning that apparently these rates were good enough to warrant extra attention. If you’re willing to accept a number of limitations, you can even get a lower rate of $1.35 for the first three minutes (yes, still in 1973 dollars)!

Kind of makes you thankful for today’s providers, doesn’t it? Some prices have certainly lowered since 1973.

5. Contaminated food was a major concern in this first issue

Basically, many people complained about unwanted stuff in foods, like impurities in flour and such. Today, the bigger concern is that these impurities are natural – that’s why organics have become a popular item. People are far less worried about slight natural impurities in flour and are much more worried about chemical treatment of food, but the concern about the food supply still persists. Why? Food is one of our base needs, and thus it is something that many care deeply about.

6. Working women in the 1970s had a very raw deal

Compared to then, the genders are much closer to equality. I’m amazed that mothers worked at all in those times, considering their jobs would barely break even. One of the issue’s feature articles focuses on a few of their experiences, including stories of women working full time and only actually netting $45 after the whole week. Seriously, why work? That net pay is far, far less than minimum wage, and a good bit of frugality would have made that difference even in 1973.

7. People were far less prone to debt

In this issue, people with just a few thousand in total debt were nearly panicking, and there was basically no concept of easy credit. The only mortgages mentioned were very solid fixed rate mortgages with a relatively low interest rate and a low principal, likely due to the firm requirement of a down payment. Credit has gone crazy in this country since 1973.

8. The subscription price hasn’t changed in thirty five years

The subscription card in the magazine offers one year’s worth of Money for $12 – the exact same price you can get from such insert cards today. Of course, today’s magazine has a much higher ad-to-content ratio, which makes all the difference. I would much rather pay a higher rate for a magazine with minimal ads.

Note: this is a pared-down version of what I originally had intended to present here. I attempted to gain permission to use a small number of scanned pages from the issue, but I was unable to secure permission for these scans from Time-Warner.

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