With all the talk about the demise of the middle class, I am reminded how much easier it was to be in the middle class a few decades ago. I am grateful that I came of age during that time period. I didn’t know wealth, but I lived comfortably and fully with what income was available. I did not know any families where both parents had to work to make ends meet.
It seems to me that the only justification for many of today’s high prices is that they are determined by whatever the traffic will bear.
A bar of candy, be it Hershey’s or Mounds or Mars of Necco Wafers cost 5 cents. Gourmet chocolate didn’t exist in this country at that time. I easily learned to love mediocre chocolate.
When I got my license to drive, gas cost 17.9 cents per gallon. That meant I could take the family car, go for a jaunt, and afford to replace the gas I’d burned so my parents would never know what I’d done.
Dollar amounts for houses or apartments in desirable cities can cost millions and millions of dollars. It seems like yesterday (you know you’re old when you start saying things like this) that the benchmark for an expensive house was $100,000. That amount of money could buy you just about anything anywhere. We’re talking 1970’s. Our first home cost us $35,000 and it wasn’t just a garage. It was a 1920’s gem with 4 bedrooms and 5 fireplaces, and 10 foot ceilings.
Today, a loaf of artisanal bread can cost as much as $7.00 or more. When I was growing up, a loaf of pasty white bread that you could play with by rolling the white stuff inside the crusts into balls, cost a mere 21 cents. That was in the 1950’s. It was also great for toasting and covering with sugar -sweetened cinnamon that came premixed inside a little container. I also discovered that you could flatten the center of a slice of white bread with the palm of your hand, making a sort of bread pancake, then pop it in your mouth and savor the way it felt as it slowly disintegrated.
My parents, who owned an independent grocery store, put me and my brother through college. Tuition was about $2000 a year. They sacrificed to pay it, but it was do-able. They never could have afforded today’s fees.
Ordering a premium salted caramel ice cream cone today might set you back $4. As a child, I licked cones at our neighborhood drugstore for 5 cents. The flavors were limited to chocolate, vanilla or strawberry. Coffee was too exotic for children, but who knew what other possibilities existed then?
I didn’t break through the hundred dollar mark for a pair shoes until I learned that my adult children were paying that much for their shoes. They secretly laughed at my thriftiness and goodness knows what else. Now, at high end stores, it’s acceptable for prices to soar over $1000 for a designer pair of shoes, particularly if they have a red sole and a Louboutin label.
How in the world does anyone in their right mind spend over $1000+ for a handbag today? And that’s just a point of departure for some labels. I Blame Sex & the City for making that acceptable.
When we got married, our first one bedroom furnished apartment in Coral Gables, Florida cost $100 per month. We kept it at $100 per month for five years. Rent was never supposed to be more than 25% of income. Ours never was.
I made $4250 a year teaching school, while my husband who was in graduate school, earned zero. We never went hungry. We went to the movies almost every week, spending $1.00 or $1.25 per ticket and also ate out regularly. I never felt poor. Although, I was told in later years, my mother wasn’t so sure.
When I was ten years old, an uncle of mine easily convinced me and my cousin to pull dandelions out of his backyard lawn for a penny a piece to provide money for us to go on rides at a local amusement park. $1 went a long way and was not to be sniffed at. We had a fine afternoon at the park after we’d picked our quota.
During college, I received $20 a week for expenses, which were primarily food related. By purchasing a 25 cent cupcake from a dispensing machine for breakfast, I could save up money to buy clothes I wanted.
When I look at the advertised prices for many of these products, I wonder what is the ceiling for them?
I’m glad I knew the times when the living for most was a whole lot easier and probably more pleasurable. Sure, it was a dream to Strike it Rich, but in those years that most likely meant being able to afford a big shiny Cadillac or getting a fancy new refrigerator.