Over my lifetime, I have been fascinated by numbers; especially numbers relating to money, income, savings, expenses, and debt.
I have the following memories from my own experience. The numbers in brackets are taken from the US Government’s economic inflation algorithym (Google: “Value of Money Calculator”) It shows the value of the money from years past in 2010 dollars (the latest year available). It makes for an interesting comparison.
My grandmother told me that my grandfather, they were both Irish immigrants who worked in the paper mills, supported a family of 8 on $10./week (no taxes) (In 2012: $240.) in 1905.
My father supported a family of 6 on $75./week (In 2010: $1,153.) during World War II.
When my Uncle George retired from 30 years in the paper mills in 1941, he received a gold watch (which I proudly own) and a pension amounting to $1./month for every year he worked for the company. In his case, that was $30./month (In 2010: $439.)
In the late 1940’s, I sat with my father while an insurance salesman pitched him on a retirement plan. He showed Dad pictures of an older man, happily fishing in Florida, on his handsome pension of $250./month (In 2010: $2,228.)
In 1947 I was 10 years old and got my first part-time job locking up our local church at 9pm, 4 nights each week. They paid me $1./week (In 2010: $8.90).
In 1953, I got my first part-time job, on a soda fountain, after high school. I averaged $18./week (In 2010: $145.).
I attended UMass in Amherst starting in 1955. Tuition, room, board, and fees cost me about $1600./year ( In 2010: $12,879.). I worked 30 hours a week in the school cafeteria for about $24/week. I also was in ROTC, and the Army paid me another $200./month. I had about $74./week (In 2010: $238.) spending money. I worked vacations at the post office and summers in the mill. I could almost save the $1600./year college costs myself. My father filled in the shortfalls. There were no school loans.
In 1961, the Treasurer of the company I worked for made $15,000./year. (In 2010: $101K.). He had a beautiful home, drove a Chrysler Imperial, and belonged to the country club. I told my father. He said, “Do your job and maybe when you’re his age you’ll be earning $15,ooo./year.”
In 1967, we bought our first home. It was a comfortable, 8 room Cape on an a half acre lot. It cost $24,500 (In 2010: $158,200.). My father came to see it. He inspected the house and property and asked: “Do you plan to live here for the rest of your life?” I said I didn’t know. Why? He said, “Because you’ll never get your money back.” We’re still living in it.
In 1970, I bought a 1969 Ford XL convertible for $2,500. (In 2010: $13,898.)
In the 1970’s, the talk was of “make your age.” If you were making $30K/year (In 2010: $159,674.) when you turned 30 years of age, you were on the fast track.
In the 1980’s, they said you were a success when your tax deductions exceeded your starting salary with the firm. I never knew anybody who did that.
In the 1990’s college grads wanted to make their age as a starting salary: 21 years old = $21K (In 2010: $34,584.).
I had retired by the new millennium, so I’ll end it here.
Two final thoughts: I ran events around the world for a Fortune 500 manufacturing company, and I created what I called “The Cheeseburger Index.” It was how much a cheeseburger cost at a first class hotel. I remember how shocked I was in the early 1980’s when cheeseburgers passed the $5.00 threshold. My all-time record was at the Ritz Carlton in Paris, circa 1992, when we paid $40. each (In 2010: $66.) for a cheeseburger, fries, and a Diet Coke. Ray Kroc of McDonald’s fame should have been alive to see that. God only knows what it would be today.
And a personal favorite: I read that Charles A. Schwab, the steel magnate and president of Bethlehem Steel, was the first man in America to make a salary of $1,000,000/year, in 1905. In today’s money, that would be $239,949,480. Remember: That was net dollars, as there were no taxes at that time. He lived the high life and they say he died broke. There’s got to be a lesson in there somewhere.