Friday, December 06, 2013

Inflation

Last night we had our Relief Society Christmas Dinner, which was lovely. This morning they sent us all of the recipes, which was lovelier except that I'm not sure my family would ever eat the goodness we consumed last night (which is why it's sometimes wonderful to dine in a room full of grown women rather than crammed around the kitchen table with picky children (and husbands)).

Anyway, one of my friends was asked to give a message about simplifying Christmas. The essence of her message was that Christmas is about building memories and coming closer together as a family and drawing nearer to the Lord. I agree with that message 100%.

However, there was a little bit of her message that rubbed me wrong. She told a story of her mother's childhood. The family had had a difficult year financially and so for Christmas they really had to budget for things and instead of just getting whatever they wanted, the parents gave each of their seven children $10 to spend "on everyone—on each other, on their parents, on their friends."

"Only ten dollars!" my friend exclaimed. "Can you imagine only having $10 to spend on everyone for Christmas?"

And, actually, I can. But my friend and I come from much different backgrounds.

However, as I pondered this story it sat more and more uncomfortably with me. This evening it finally dawned on me why. The answer was a single word: inflation.

So I pulled up the CPI Inflation Calculator and gave a few numbers a whirl.

Now, I don't know precisely what year this story took place, but I can take a few guesses:

Having $10 in your pocket in 1960 would equal having $78.90 in your pocket in 2013.
Having $10 in your pocket in 1965 would equal having $74.14 in your pocket in 2013.
Having $10 in your pocket in 1970 would equal having $60.19 in your pocket in 2013.
Having $10 in your pocket in 1975 would equal having $43.41 in your pocket in 2013.
Having $10 in your pocket in 1980 would equal having $28.34 in your pocket in 2013.

I hesitate to go much farther delve farther into "the past" than 1960 or much farther into "the future" than 1980 since my friend is just a few years older than me and I'm fairly sure our parents are close-ish in age. I don't know how old her mother was when the story happened, however, only that there were seven kids at home ranging from high school to younguns.

I guess my point is that stories like this tend to feel a little hyperbolic to me—like walking to school uphill, both ways, in the snow, with no shoes! My point is that her mom wasn't given $10 today; she was given $10 decades ago (unless my friend accounted for inflation but didn't tell us—in which case 1980: $3.53; 1975: $2.30; 1970: $1.66; 1965: $1.35; 1960: $1.27 (and that would've been difficult to budget)). I think having only $10 to spend in 1980 would've been very difficult as well. But having anything between $50 and $70? That sounds fine to me—generous, even, since teenagers have the ability to make money on their own and little kids aren't expected to buy elaborate gifts for their siblings (is anyone expected to do that? I hope not...).

Granted, it would've killed her narrative a bit to throw in an "after accounting for inflation" clause, but I think it's a necessary part of the story because the question of spending $70 on your family for Christmas versus spending $10 on your family for Christmas is huge, at least in my eyes.

The point of her lesson wasn't entirely lost on me; I did appreciate her thoughts on simplifying Christmas. However, I just couldn't get that little detail out of my mind. Sometimes I can't stop myself from wondering about these things. Sometimes they make the lesson of the story less applicable to life (such as in this instance, at least for me). Sometimes they make lesson of the story more applicable, such as the story of President Monson misplacing a five-dollar bill during The Great Depression.

The story is good all on its own (you should read it), but what if I told you that:

Having $5 in your pocket in 1930 would equal having $69.92 in your pocket in 2013?
Having $5 in your pocket in 1935 would equal having $85.24 in your pocket in 2013?
Having $5 in your pocket in 1940 would equal having $83.41 in your pocket in 2013?

The "Five-Dollar Miracle" isn't a cute story about a little boy who lost a little pocket change. It's a story about a hard-working and now desperate young boy who lost nearly one-hundred dollars (I'm going to assume President Monson didn't have $5 in 1930 since he was born in 1927; it seems more likely this story would've taken place between 1935 and 1940).

That changes the story for me quite a bit because...inflation. It's mind-boggling.

2 comments:

  1. Oh boy, inflation. So we actually trade names with the kids, so they only need to purchase for one person. It makes isn't easier on mom and makes that ten dollars go further. Also we trade names every week and secret Santa each other doing nice things for each other. Then every time you do something nice you get to put a piece of straw in a manger to make a soft place for baby Jesus. It is one of my favorite parts of Christmas!

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  2. Years ago I read a book about personality traits and you remind me of part of the description for melancholies. How they are so into details and the nitty-gritty truths, full-disclosure maybe. Actually I might not be remembering it correctly, but it described me so well. Like yesterday I thanked someone for a Christmas card saying it was the first I'd received. Well, except that I had to add it really wasn't the VERY FIRST I'd received since we got one from a girl we sponsor in the Philippines, but this was the first Christmas card we received from regular people we know who live in the States. See what I mean? OK, maybe not, but I know what I mean in my mind, and I loved this post and the fact that these little details (inflation) generate a whole post on your blog. :)

    And thanks for sharing the story about President Monson and his loss!

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