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.
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.