jayellebee's Blog

October 25, 2011

What’s it Worth?

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 8:47 pm
Tags: , ,

     There’s a nifty website where you can figure out what something bought in the past would cost in today’s dollars.  The site’s title is “Inflation Calculator: Money’s Real Worth Over Time,” and the URL is www.coinnews.net/tools/cpi-inflation-calculator/.  Plug in the year of purchase, the amount paid, and the current year.  Click “Calculate” and your computer will invoke the Consumer Price Index to work monetary magic. 

     You can determine what salary you would be paid today if you were working at that first, entry-level job.  Shocked by the sad state of today’s housing market?  Learn what your first cookie-cutter tract house might sell for.

The First Year Teacher

FYI, my annual salary as a first-year kindergarten teacher in 1970-71 was $9,000.  The school district would have to pay $52,629 for me to achieve the same purchasing power today, a 485% increase due to inflation.  However, in reality, the teaching newbies hired to educate in that same aging facility this year receive a paltry $22,100.  Raise your hand if you agree teachers are underpaid.

     The brand-spanking-new, 1750 square foot home, built on 1/5 of an acre — for which Ken and I felt like we’d mortgaged our lives away — cost us $43,500 in 1973.  In today’s dollars, the house would sell for $222,290 (plus a sizable bribe for the county inspector so the shoddy construction could pass current building codes), a mere 411% increase.  Of course, that assumes some potential buyer could be found, and he would qualify for a loan ….

Chiffon and Lace

Anyhow, I got to thinking about prices then and now because I have a  blouse with a past.

     My great-grandfather, his wife, and their three children (one girl and two much younger boys) immigrated to San Francisco from Melbourne, Australia, around the turn of the 20th century.   I know two things about this man.  (1) He had a drinking problem.  (2) He disappeared.  Family lore suggests he was “slipped a Mickey” and shanghaied.  Whatever the truth be, his abrupt departure left my great-grandmother to raise three children on her own.   The foursome survived the 1906 earthquake, and God knows what other challenges.  A strong bond formed between Grandma and her mother.

Louisa Lamprell 1929

 In 1929, before the crash, my grandmother and her mother had a falling-out.  The subject of their feud has been lost over the years, but my mother (who was 12 at the time) had a vivid recollection of the two not talking for three straight weeks.  The older woman’s birthday approached.  Her daughter, my grandmother, bought an exquisite blouse to be presented as a birthday gift/peace offering.  Three days before the special occasion, a spider bite led to my great-grandmother’s sudden death.   She was 52.

     Mom told me her mother was inconsolable.  The anticipated reconciliation had been snatched away from her.   She couldn’t find it in her heart to return the birthday blouse, and instead packed the precious gift away.  Mom related this story when we found the lovely garment, price tag still attached, as we sorted through Grandma’s things after her death in 1970.   Last year, the fabled top became mine after Mom passed away.

     So, here I am.  Owner of a never-worn blouse for which my grandmother parted with $5.95 in 1929.  The delicate garment fits me – I had to try it on just once – but I wouldn’t dare wear it.  In today’s dollars, my priceless heirloom would cost $78.95.  (That number reflects 1226% inflation over the past 82 years.)  But it isn’t the monetary value that  holds me back.  It’s the history. 

     Pat Boone has been credited with saying, “Life’s uncertain.  Eat dessert first.” 

     The lesson of the blouse plays against Boone’s flippant philosophy.  Pride may not be easy to swallow, but it beats choking on tears of remorse.



  1. OMG! The picture of you with long hair is priceless. I could never get mine to flip like that. Oh, and I enjoyed the article, too. 🙂

    Comment by Donna — October 28, 2011 @ 10:11 am | Reply

    • Donna, thanks for pointing out the length of my hair back then, and not the color! Joanne

      Comment by Joanne — October 28, 2011 @ 8:13 pm | Reply

  2. I love the easy stroll into memory––and what a poignant one!––into discovery and reflection. A lovely piece of writing.

    Comment by Jean G — January 6, 2012 @ 3:53 am | Reply

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