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Who wants to be a millionaire? It’s not as great as it once was…

We had been married maybe three years, when my wife came home in tears from her weekly grocery shopping ordeal at the local Piggly Wiggly store.

I say ordeal because she had, as usual, taken our toddler son, and I figured he’d been particularly rowdy, although the store employees who knew customers by their first names (small-town-Mayberry-USA era, y’know) were always tolerant of his antics.

“What’s wrong?” I inquired solicitously as we unloaded stuff from the bags (brown paper in those days, no environment-contaminating plastic).

“I spent (sniffle) $32 on groceries (sob),” she said. “I just couldn’t believe it when they rang up the total.”

Though part of the weeping was probably her uncertainty as to whether our piddly bank account would clear the $32 check she’d written, prior to that our weekly grocery tab — including the vast quantities of milk our young son guzzled — had never topped $25. And we ate pretty well, including occasional T-bone steaks for the grill.

While $32 would hardly get one past the produce section in today’s supermarket, and today’s young parents would find that spending total for a week’s groceries laughable, it nonetheless is indicative of the devastating impact of inflation on earnings/prices over the years.

That $32 grocery tab would equate to $225.86 in Jan. 2011 dollars, a whopping 605.8 percent inflation!

In one of the Piggly Wiggly ads from the newspaper I edited back then, these prices: ½-gal. sweet milk, 39 cents; 4-rolls Northern tissue, 29 cents; ½ gallon Hyde Park tutti-frutti ice cream, 79 cents; 1 lb. Folger’s coffee, 79 cents; 14 oz. Del Monte catsup, 27 cents; T-bone steak, $1.29 lb.; Bryan’s franks, 29 cents; 1 lb. sliced bacon, 49 cents (that’s when a pound was actually a pound, not the 12 oz. “pound” of today).

And with every purchase one got Quality Stamps, which in sufficient quantity could be redeemed for dishes, small appliances, and other merchandise.

When my classmates and I set out to conquer the world, back in the Dinosaur Age, $15,000 a year was considered a darn good salary. One could live pretty well on that, even afford a fairly nice car (21 cents per gallon gas).

Today, $15k is poverty level, and factoring in 670.9 percent inflation for the intervening years, would take $115,515 for equivalent 20ll dollars.

In the small rural Mississippi town where I grew up, there was just one person, a physician/surgeon with a knack for investments, who was generally known to be a millionaire — wealth that was inconceivable to us.

Today, a million bucks ain’t nearly so impressive (to have an equivalent in 2011 dollars would require $7.7 million). In 2009, there were 7.8 million U.S. citizens worth $1 million or more. Ho hum.

All of which is to note that money, thanks to that ogre of inflation (which government analysts continue telling us is “negligible”), is more and more becoming like Monopoly currency — hardly worth the paper it’s printed on.

TAGS: Legislative
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