Sunday, February 23, 2014

Looking at My 1970 Checkbook

I came across this 44-year-old checkbook yesterday. It looks ancient, and it reads like a time capsule.

It starts with a balance of only $218.26, and it never goes much higher than $400. We didn't have children yet, but we lived a fairly civilized life in a Dutch Colonial house in Bergen County, NJ, and spent our weekends at our little house in Pennsylvania. I've never been what you'd call a conspicuous consumer, but I'm sure I did a normal amount of spending. So here's what was normal, or close to it, in 1970.

My telephone bills, including lots of "long distance" calls to my parents in Florida, ran around $40. The electric bill was under $20 for Pennsylvania, and around $10 for New Jersey.  Four months of garbage pickup for $20. Propane for my gas range, 5 bucks. Four dollars to renew my driver's license. Five dollars to the liquor store. A whopping $26 to Bamberger's department store.

So many of the checks are startlingly small. Fifty cents for a Maid of Scandinavia catalog. A guy who made picture frames got $2. Ordering a part for my pressure cooker ran me $2.36. (I guess they didn't charge for shipping.) Someone sold me flowers for $1.60. One year subscription to the local paper for $4. Fifteen months of McCall's magazine for $2.88. (No wonder they went out of business.) Even Bloomingdale's got only $6 and change.

Then there are the mysteries, of course:

A check for $1.98 to Libner Grains. I have no idea who Libner was, and no clue why I'd need grains. Tiffany & Co., $7.36. What could one possibly buy at Tiffany's for $7.36? A check for 50 cents to New Haven Vital Statistics.

But some things never change. In 1970 I donated to animal charities and environmental causes. And almost every page of the checkbook records purchases of books and music, music and books.




10 comments:

Julia said...

Those were the days...
No wonder I find that prices are so excessively high now a days. It should become easier to live comfortably but instead it's becoming increasingly difficult.

I really feel bad for today's young people who are raising a family on a small income.

Have a good week and thanks for sharing this.
JB

Susan said...

Thanks, Julia. These numbers surprised me. Oh, and I watched an episode of "Dragnet" the other day in which the detectives examine a gas station receipt. Gas was 35¢ a gallon....

Julia said...


Hi Susan, I remember that gas cost .29 cent a US Gallon in 1966 the year George and I got married. We drove all the way to Florida on our honeymoon and it didn't cost us that much.

I remember being able to go to the States any time we wanted without having to show a passport and we didn't need travel insurance.
Going to the dentist was very affordable and prescription medicine didn't put us in the poor house. I also remember planting all kind of flower seeds for very cheap, now the seed prices are outrageous. I miss the good old days.

I hope that you are feeling much better these days.
Hugs,
JB

Susan said...

Thank you, Julia. I was thinking about you today because I know you have Raynaud's, as I do. This winter has been hard on my hands. I hope you've fared better.

Dona Patrick said...

Wow! I can't believe prices are so different. Also I cannot believe that 1970 was so long ago.

I have Reynaud's too. I am lucky that I can hang out indoors most of the time now, but if I were outside more often I know I'd have sores on my fingers like I used to when I had to supervise students at recess in Northern Illinois.

Since then I have made sure I dress very warmly and wear gloves into the spring.

Susan said...

Dona, I hope your Raynaud's stays under control. Mine began in my 30s, just in my feet. Now my hands are the bigger problem because disposable foot warmers take care of my feet, but I can't keep my hands covered all day. I figured out today that so far this winter I've spent $240 on the foot warmers and $80 on body warmers. I keep a body warmer in my pocket all day for my cold hands to clutch in the house.

Indigo Bunting said...

This is a fabulous post, m'dear.

Susan said...

Thanks, IB!

Eulalia Benejam Cobb said...

My first full-time college teaching job salary, in 1974: $11,500. It didn't seem too bad at the time...

Susan said...

Lali, I remember 10 years earlier one of my girlfriends commenting that her new boyfriend "makes his $150 a week." That made him downright prosperous.