The wages and expenses from the last post make for some harsh reading, don’t you think? Remember, the $5 a month per person “cost of living” did not include expenses like:
~seeing the doctor if your baby was sick
~ fixing the barn if a storm blew it down
~ taking into account a bad year of crops or
~ replacing your horse if it died.
Most working-class people lived from one weekly paycheck to the next and prayed nothing would “go wrong” and put them into debt.
The middle-class had things a little better, but not by much. Many were merchants, like grocers or shopkeepers, hotel keepers, jewelers, and saloon keepers. Lawyers, doctors, and ministers were “professionals,” but they weren’t rich, either, since the people they served were mostly from the working and middle-class. The rich folks were the land owners, bank owners, railroad barons, and other wealthy businessmen, or those with “family” money. Some people in California had become rich because of the Gold Rush.
Whenever the family had a little extra money, the place to spend it was at the mercantile. One could find all kinds of things to buy—from thread and ribbon to kerosene lamps and candy.
A family bought their fresh produce from the grocer, milk came from the milkman, and the ice to keep things cold came from the ice man. Here you can see a sampling of items and their prices from 1880.
Here is your "assignment." At the bottom of this post is a shopping list. Your mother has sent you to town to pick up a few items. You have $1.50 to buy all the things on the list. It's all the money left until pay day, so spend it wisely. (You really want to buy the calico fabric because it is your little sister’s birthday, and your mother wants to make her a special dress.)
Will the $1.50 be enough to buy everything on the list? If not, what will you do? How will you spend the money and bring home as much change as you can? Use the price lists here. Do not use a calculator! Remember, you are living in 1880, before calculators. You can do your figuring on paper or in your head. Leave a comment and let me know how the shopping trip went!