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.