This morning I came across a few long forgotten scraps of paper that hold a meticulous record of my household spending back in 1972. It isn’t my nature to keep such close track of things, but for reasons I’ve forgotten, I wrote it all down for three months and never tossed it out. Today I’m so glad I kept this snippet of data. How amazing to see what inflation has done, in black and white.
In July, 1972, our three children had just turned six, four and one. I spent a total of $127.73 that month. Of that sum, $112.95, was spent on groceries. Between weekly shopping trips I made frequent stops at various grocery stores to pick up single items, generally spending less than a dollar.
Other expenditure included $2.95 for scotch tape and sneakers for the baby, $2.95 for a photo album, jelly beans and potato roasting nails, $2.29 for a bottle of wine, $2.50 for a haircut (discount salons had not yet been invented), and $.63 for a birthday card at the Hallmark store. I generally wrote a check once a week at the grocery store, adding a little extra to have cash during the week. Only rarely did I whip out my new BankAmeriCard.
In writing a story to go along with this accounting, I’ll include observations about my attitudes toward spending in general, how we managed the household finances, and how our spending habits have evolved over the interim.
My children will be astonished to see what things cost back then, and in another twenty years when my grandchildren are paying their own way, they’ll find it even more interesting. Ten years ago I stunned our son’s grad school friends at a party in Boston by telling them how from 1963 until 1966, we had lived in “the best $85 per month apartment in Boston” and how I’d fed the two of us, ridden the trolley down Commonwealth Ave. to Boston U, and bought an occasional new pen on a rigid budget of $15 per week. At that point the $85 apartment would have been renting for almost ten times that much, and just the trolley ride would cost nearly $15 per week.
How about you? Do you have old financial records you could use to document your past? If not, you can find general price information on the Internet. Two sites I quickly found by searching for “historic food prices” include the Historical Text Archive and The Food Timeline. You can find other data this way. Please post links as a comment if you know of any good ones.
Tell your descendants how finances have changed through the years. You could also include prices of stocks and bonds, interest rates, housing costs, and gasoline prices, your wages, and so forth. They’ll be glad to know!
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal