Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Weird Stuff from Dad's Files

I've been meaning to post some funny stuff I found when I was cleaning up all my Dad's old files a few months ago, while helping to look after him before his surgery. I discovered that he was way more of a pack rat than I'd realized, and incredibly obsessive about recording certain kinds of data. I'll spare you the results of his research into replacement garage doors and his records of watering the lawn, but I will share his expenditures for 1975, as he recorded them:


[Grocery store] $2,761.89
Milk $366.47 (yes, we had a milkman. Fortunately I remember him well enough to know that neither I nor my sister resemble him in the slightest!)

Oil $525.57
Electricity $346.94
Water $103.20

Mortgage $3,821.33
Insurance $250.00

Telephone $406.63

"Checkloan" $1,932.52 (this must have been some kind of home equity line of credit, probably for some renovations we did on the house the year before)

Dentist $217.00

Mastercharge $1,224.12
[Local clothing store] $335.68
[Department store] $257.02
[Department store #2] $141.18
(these were grouped together, suggesting that these were all clothing and other expenses incurred by my mother, for herself, the household and the kids, but I would imagine some other expenses must also have gone on the credit card.)

Books $171.38
Magazines $127.83
Records $368.63 [OOPS! Major correction here! When I was looking at this again, I realized this number was actually a subtotal I copied to the wrong line. The actual number for records was $69.42.]
(these were also grouped together and would all be things for my father's personal enjoyment, for the most part)

Tickets $210.40 (for symphony and ballet subscriptions, which were my parents' only nights out)

To convert these numbers into roughly today's dollars, multiply them by 4.

A few things stick out-- my dad is a big classical music buff. What he spent on records and tickets would translate to almost $200 a month in today's dollars! [See big OOPS above! It's actually quite a bit less, only about $93 a month, though that is still significant.]

He listed "Mastercharge" as an expense, not as a method of payment. I remember my mom paying for most things with checks, so I think they used credit cards differently than most people do now. I'm not sure why he didn't itemize the charges, but as noted above, I suspect he just lumped it all together more or less as "stuff my wife buys that I complain about." But I also wonder if he ever used it to buy gas, as that is a big expense that isn't otherwise noted.

The oil (heat) and electricity costs seem kind of high. We were having an energy crisis in the '70s, though I don't believe it was quite at its worst in 1975. Also, my perspective is probably skewed as my current utility bills are really low. When I was a kid, I remember my dad constantly going around the house turning off lights that weren't being used, even if just for a few minutes! I'd be quietly playing the basement and have to shout "I'm down here!" after being plunged into darkness.

The grocery bills were also pretty high-- this doesn't surprise me at all, as my mother to this day manages to spend a huge amount on food, and at least back then it was for a family of four!

Aside from the 1975 budget, I saved a couple other items of interest. One was a 1997 receipt from J. Press, "Gentlemen's Tailors and Furnishers." My dad bought two pairs of pants, which show prices marked down by about 15% to around $106 and $129 each, plus an ascot for $55! That just cracks me up. I remember my dad wearing an ascot once or twice and I'm sure he fancied himself quite the dandy! He refused for years and years to replace a pair of falling-apart boots he wore to do yard work, but he had no problem dropping $55 on an ascot.

The other receipt was from the restaurant where we celebrated my 30th birthday. My partner at the time managed to arrange a big surprise party with lots of family and friends, many of whom traveled and stayed overnight in New York just to be there. The only problem was that right before the party, my partner and I had a huge, tearful screaming fight which culminated, more or less, like this:

"You bitch! I can't believe I went through all this trouble to plan a surprise party for your f***ing birthday!"
So I had to show up and pretend to be surprised and hide the fact that I was totally miserable and on the verge of a breakup. At the end of the party, my partner sort of cornered my dad, who was quite drunk by that point, and said "hey, let's split the bill, ok?" My dad handed over a credit card and paid his half, but I remember having the impression that the original plans for the party might have been more along the lines of everyone chipping in, and some friends who asked about it as they were leaving seemed pleasantly surprised to be told it was all taken care of! Oh well-- I'll never be asking my dad to pay for a wedding, and if you look at it that way, he got off easy: the receipt he saved was for $940.75.

It's strange how a few bits of paper with dollars signs can carry so many memories...


Anonymous said...

I wonder if you'd be willing to do an article about how parents interact with their kids when their kids get money. For example, my parents threw me a big party when I passed the bar, but it was all of their friends and I invited maybe 5 people. All the guest brought cash gifts and as I was writing the thank you notes, my mom told me to give all the money to my dad, who had paid for the party. Has that happened to others? To you? How did you handle it?

DINKS said...

haha....oh man, that milkman joke sure does get around! i think dad's huddle together and agree on stuff like that ;)

1001 Petals said...

I find these sorts of details fascinating as well. Hope your father's doing well!

frugal zeitgeist said...

Do you look like the mailman?

*runs and hides*

Anonymous said...

Loved that post! I must say- that was probably one of the more interesting financial blog posts I've read for awhile. Great job!

Anonymous said...

I loved this post. As for me, I was struck by the fact that milk was almost one tenth of the mortgage. I spend about $5-10 on milk and over $2000 on my rent every month, so there's a huge difference.

Anonymous said...

I actually did laugh out loud at the milkman comment!

Madame X said...

I don't look like the mailman either... but I did get an awful lot of attention from the butcher at the grocery store! Hmmm...

Madame X said...

And thanks for asking after my dad, he is actually doing quite well lately! No signs of the tumor growing back yet.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Trevor, very good article.

Seems like your partner put the old man on the spot. Shady move that your dad most likely couldnt say no

Anonymous said...

Regarding the milk money (not the milkman!) - in 1985, with a family of 2 teens, 2 tots (2 and 4) and the parents, my mother was paying $200 for deliveries per month - and her mortgage was $940. BUT that was 6 gallons milk per week, plus pints of half-n-half and heavy cream, a quart of cottage cheese and a quart of yogurt. No wonder we were all pudgy. But still - it was darn fine dairy even if it was 20% of the mortgage!

Thrifty Gal said...

I'm glad you mentioned 1975. Those of you who are younger don't remember the huge inflation from the 1970's fueled (sorry) by the high energy prices. I remember gas going from 35c to $1 per gallon over a very short time. (Sorry, I can't remember the specific years, but it was the 70's. Anyway, gas prices would vary by where in the country you live.) These days, with people living longer, it is possible to have a 30-year retirement (retire at 60, live to 90), so we must consider years of rising costs during our retirement years, not just the cost of living the year we retire.

moocifer said...

"All the guest brought cash gifts and as I was writing the thank you notes, my mom told me to give all the money to my dad, who had paid for the party. Has that happened to others? To you? How did you handle it?"

Wow, I would never think to do that if I threw a party for my kids (or anyone).

I'm not sure how I'd handle that, but I'd be offended and hurt. Hopefully I'd say something like, "I'm really happy that Dad and you threw this party for me. As these were gifts to me from (x, y and z), I was planning on doing something else with the money. Also, since Dad paid, I wouldn't want to seem to be rejecting his gift by giving him the money to offset the cost of the party. Is something going on with Dad and your finances that I didn't know about?"