BFS Prompt #4: Money Management, mid-century style

Shimelle’s suggestion to blog about something as ordinary as grocery shopping reminded me of the drama and detail that surrounded grocery shopping when I was growing up. I am one of ten children and, though we weren’t all living in our parents’ home at the same time, I know it was a huge challenge for Mom and Dad to keep their growing family fed, housed, and clothed. Also, as was common in the 50s and 60s, there was only one paycheck to support the household because my mother didn’t work outside the home.

Mom and Dad spent a good part of each Saturday at the stores and when they finally arrived home, there were lots and lots of bags to bring in and empty. Today most people would immediately move from emptying the shopping bags to putting everything away, but in our household there was an extra step. Basically, we had to marry up every item on the store receipts to their matching in-real-life box, bottle, or can. If something was missing, Dad would end up having to go back to the store to get either a replacement item or a refund for being mischarged. Remember, too, that this was long before the days of computerized barcodes and cryptic, yet decipherable, descriptions of purchased items we have today. So our home checkout method involved counting items (THREE of this, ONE of that, FOUR of something else) and then a process of deduction to determine what series of prices was most logically associated with each set of items. This is extreme by 21st century standards but was an essential part of how my parents managed and provisioned their home.

There was yet another layer to this. My mother used what she referred to as her “calendar,” an old-style steno pad, to keep track of literally every cent that came into the house. I have vivid memories of Mom saying “Bill __________ (last name), what did you spend today?” Dad would then empty his pockets of bills and coins, count it all up, and then (try to) reconcile it to whatever he had at the end of the day before. Dad had to account for his coffee and pie at the diner down the street from where he worked, the nickel he gave to me or one of the other kids for ice cream or pop, gasoline to fill the car (33 cents per gallon with a green stamps bonus), and any other random purchases he made during the day. Mom recorded all that in her calendar and subtracted those expenses from the previous day’s total. Since I was the second oldest in our family (and way more cooperative and dependable than my older brother), I was especially interested in a satisfactory result to this exercise because a difference of even a penny meant an all-out effort, including going through the trash for stray receipts, to figure out where and how the missing money was spent. Remember, too, that this was long before handheld calculators so math error was a very real possibility… “Tense” doesn’t even begin to define the atmosphere in our home when there was a discrepancy between the two days’ totals. As extreme and obsessive as all this sounds, it was for, my parents, a matter of survival for them and their children.

I certainly don’t have any photographs to support this memory and yet this experience and the lessons I learned from it have had a significant influence on my adult life. I may spend money more readily than my parents did but, because of their influence, I always keep a mental balance sheet between income and expenses, and I almost always know, within a dollar or two, how much cash I have.

So, how to scrap this? One of my scrapper acquaintances introduced me to the idea of “proxy scrapping.” As I understood it, that means substituting modern day photos for images that weren’t captured in the original time frame. I do want to scrap this at some point, so I’m thinking some combination of art journaling, masked images, and symoblic elements. It may take me some time to bring this LO to completion, but this blogging exercise has certainly helped define it for me. I look forward to completing this LO sometime in the near future.

5 thoughts on “BFS Prompt #4: Money Management, mid-century style

  1. Pingback: Irene Agnes Armbrust (1929-2001): Making the most of what she had (52 Ancestors #11) | Tidbits & Treasures

  2. Pingback: Nickel Ice Cream « Tidbits & Treasures

  3. This has brought back so memories of my early childhood when my father used to so the weekly shop. We too would have to find every item and mark it against the receipt before it would be put away. I remember , on more than one occasion having to return the whole lot to the shop when they had overcharged! Oh my goodness the weekly shop must have taken all day. We are so fortunate these days. You have a great memory, I would love to see your LO for this story.

  4. Goodness that sounds like quite a task! Thank you for commenting on my blog, I’m over from BFS. For some reason I’ve been collecting receipts since the start of the year. I don’t really know what to do with them except put them in a pocket on a page but I wanted to show how we spent out money, what things cost, where we shopped etc. I love the new line from October Afternoon, I think its called 5 and Dime and has loads of 50s style advertising ephemera which could look good on yours. Take care.

  5. Your blog brings back so many memories for me, although we didn’t have the expense balancing that you did but I remember my Mum having a household amount to spend for the week and when that was gone that was it.

    Perhaps you could find some “historical” pictures of shopping, gas prices etc from the 50’s to use on your layout.

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