The $5.00 Grocery Bag

I grew up in a frugal household. During my earliest years I’m told we often didn’t have food in the pantry for the night’s supper but to be honest I never became aware of the desperate straits my parents were coping with. Later in life — by the time I was ready for Junior High School — things were better and I guess we were pretty much like most folks — though I learned recently that numerous of my Jr. High friends were also from impoverished families.

How many groceries can you cram
into a paper grocery bag?

Through Junior and Senior High Schools I brought with me memories of mom going grocery shopping, of her helping out a friend who had farm acreage and sold at the local farmer’s market in return for which help we were blessed with summer’s worth of free-in-exchange-for-labor vegetables. We ate good those summers with amazing veg and flavors that still linger on my palate.

The shopping memories, however, are among the most vivid and in 2020 the most poignant of memories. Why? You ask.

Well, take for example today’s shopping trip. We picked up our weekly order of groceries. Admittedly we bought from a store we infrequently patronize because of higher prices, but I knew we could get several items there that have been out of stock at our normal outlet. So, we bit the bullet on other items and also paid the $5.95 service fee to have the groceries pulled, paid for, and delivered to our car.

That being said…

The bill was $81.00 for three (3) not very full bags of groceries. That’s $27.00 per paper grocery bag of food.

My memory of mom doing the shopping was her weekly budget. Most of my pre-marriage life the three of us lived on a grocery budget of $20.00 per week. And I remember with mixed emotions — depending each week on how well mom had done with her shopping — her reaction to seeing grocery bags heaped to the top with under $5.00 of groceries! Those times she got less into a bag than her targeted $5.00 she was very unhappy. Those times she got more into the bag she was delighted. It was a game.

Now, my mom was first generation American from a Polish mother who came to this country in her early teens. Grandma was shrewd. My grandparents at one time owned 4 duplexes in Milwaukee – prior to the Great Depression — when they lost all four of them to the bank on foreclosures. That lesson, however, taught grandma to be even tighter with her money and it was her practice to talk three blocks — each and every day — to Mitchel Street to do her daily shopping. She would walk from 7th Street where she lived to 13th street where the last of her favorite stores was located, stopping at any store of interest at the time. She always bought no more than she could eat in a day and always less than she as an aging adult could carry back home. There were no taxi rides. There was no convenient bus to be ridden. Those both cost additional money and she wasn’t about to spend what she didn’t have to spend.

So, mom had some training in frugality and she was a good mom and I trust a good wife. She passed about 5 years before my dad and in that time he never showed any interest in meeting or dating anyone else. She was the ONE for him and they had a happy, fulfilled life together. I’m sure I carry her genes. To this day I never buy anything without a good think about the price. We (Peg & I) have done a lot on a small budget but we have been successful because we never let our guard down and we refused to buy what we could not afford at the time we were making the purchase. We learned to wait for a lot of things — still, we had more interesting vacations and adventures than any of our friends. That being said, it still rubs me the wrong way to get more than $27.00 worth of food into a single grocery bag.

I’ve comment on the fact that I was a conscientious objector as a young man. When I was ordered to do my 2 years of alternative service Peg & I moved to Chicago and lived on the wages I could get as a C.O.. My first job at a downtown Chicago hospital in 1968 paid $1.98 / hour. We went apartment shopping and place we found that we thought we could afford was also literally the cheapest place we could find on the South Side of Chicago and it cost $60.00. Now, in 2020 we are paying $900.00 which is a pretty modest price for 2020 in the Milwaukee area. How anyone living on minimum wage in Milwaukee can survive (which I know they cannot) is beyond me. No one should be surprised that people are literally forced into crime when working an honest job 40 hours a week leaves you impoverished.

I am sure, knowing the price of homes my granddaughter is looking at, that she and her husband each make more than I did at my best paying job any time in my life. I’m not complaining — they need it to survive in this world, and I wish them well. But times certainly have changed. A regressive view of the world and government means that the new generation/s will face increasing difficulties just surviving and I grieve that the Boomer generation has done that to our children and grandchildren.

I have no idea how long Peg & I will be around. Our budget is ok for now, and for a few years, but I wonder about others who had even a harder time than we have. Our circle of friends is small at this time of life, and we don’t know many folks who are struggling really hard — that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there — just that our circle doesn’t include many of them.

I surely hope that the next four years will be more productive governmentally. We certainly cannot afford another four years of bottle neck and obstructionism.


7 thoughts on “The $5.00 Grocery Bag

  1. I am worried what the fallout of this pandemic will be. Hubby has been on a permanent disability pension since 2009 and believe me, it’s nothing to write home about. I remember stories back in the 80s of elderly people surviving on cat food or dog food because they couldn’t afford meat. No doubt governments will be cutting back on a lot of services and I wonder what that will mean. But, we have been through many difficult times and always, always God has taken care of us. We have always been given what we need. I try to keep that forefront in my mind so I do not pick up the worry habit once again.


    • I hear you Carol.

      This virus probably isn’t going to go away any time soon and with stories about it morphing it may hang around for much longer than anyone hopes. Life will be different and the systems we have in place that used to serve us pretty well are simply not going to work without adjustment. It will be a test of our ability and willingness to adapt in order to survive.

      But, we are in better shape than those in impoverished countries, so maybe our biggest problem for a time will be worrying about what may happen before it does. Always a dangerous thing to do.



      • Yes, I often think of how very blessed we are in the West. I read once that worry is a form of prayer, that it may bring you that which you don’t want. Interesting thought!


      • Interesting.

        I have been thinking a lot about the idea of how prayer is received by God. There’s a verse that talks about the prayers of the saints being like a sweet smelling savor — reminiscent of the aroma of a burning offering on the altar of sacrifice. I realize that’s a really anthropomorphic concept but there is something appealing about the concept that sincere earnest prayers being received as a pleasant aroma and insincerity or worry being like a stench. Of course there is no literal aroma, but then there are things in heaven and earth that we have not yet dreamt of, right? So the idea of our prayers being received in heaven in a way, of some sort, that is appealing to God makes perfect sense.

        Personally, I think modern day believers have put way too much emphasis on what we get from God and far too little on what we give. Ours is a God who required sacrifice, and I think we would all do much better if we spent more time appreciating and praising God and far less time asking, begging, and whining about what we need from him. He is God and we are creatures. The parable of the workers hired at varying times in the field speaks to that in my mind.


        Liked by 1 person

      • I think the whole notion of sacrifice is looked upon as being a negative thing, likewise is service. Perhaps it is my upbringing, but to me, to serve is an honor. To help others was once considered a noble thing, it seems to me that too many embrace the idea that success is most important in life. But how do we measure “success”? To me, success is being able to look at myself in the mirror knowing I’ve done my very best. It’s important give as well as receive. I have to agree, too many of us are demanding things from God and rarely breathing a word of thanks. I’m hoping that isn’t so, maybe it will take this pandemic to help us see what’s truly important – and it isn’t things. 🙂


  2. Linda Sand says:

    I remember being shocked to realize the $5.00 grocery bag had risen to the $10.00 grocery bag. Now, I can only wish for a $10.00 bag. It costs $10 for one bag now IF that bag is one meal for two people from a fast food place–places that didn’t even exist during the $5.00 a bag years. We are fortunate that my Dave’s wages climbed as fast as the cost of groceries did. And that our daughter made it past minimum wages when she stopped being a teenager.


    • Times do change, don’t they! LOL

      You’re right about fast food places not existing in the $5.00 bag days. Last time we did a Culvers for a drive thru lunch we had two burgers, one onion ring, and two malts for $19.00. Mom would have fed us three for a week for that amount. Such is life.

      Then again, back then you didn’t go out to a restaurant and pay $30-$60 for a plate that was piled high with minimal food. Back then you may not have had vertical food but there was enough on the plate to satisfy your hunger.



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