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How Middle Class Was Easier Fifty Years Ago

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.”  –Will Rogers

Folks will tell you it’s getting harder to make ends meet, that it now takes two incomes to live the middle class lifestyle whereas fifty years ago the middle class life could be had on one income. Ah, progress. Though one wonders how much more progress can we take before everything gives? They say “enough is enough” but we certainly don’t seem to act like we believe that old phrase for a minute.

I remember my family life of 1963, (yep, I’m that old) which I imagine was fairly typically middle class. Steel yourself for a “back-in-my-day” adventure. Let’s see where you might save money living as we did wat back when. Which is to say, how middle class was easier in the not so distant past.

Houses were about half the size they are now, with bedrooms barely big enough to swing a cat. Not that we swung cats. They didn’t used to build McMansions with great rooms, media rooms, or kitchens big enough for ballroom dancing. Your mortgage is going to be much lower with half the house to pay off.

With a smaller house you’d lower your heating bill. Your summer cooling bill would be next to nothing because air conditioning was something of a minor luxury back then. Window fans and sweating were our cooling methods. Along the same lines your clothes drying bill would also be close to zero as there’d be no dryer. Clothes were line dried, outdoors in warm weather, indoors in cold. We were all “greener” back then without knowing it.

Mouseover the pics to see what a difference a few decades can make. Heck, the olden days weren’t even in color.

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You’d have a single TV set (b&w, no remote) on which you’d watch broadcast programs. All for free. No monthly cable or sat­ellite bill. No VCR or DVD player and no video games either. Sports were played outdoors with balls, bats, gloves, and whatnot, not on the couch with a joystick.

You wouldn’t spend a penny on a personal com­puter, software, and high-speed internet access. None of it existed. Your phone would be a no-frills land line hung on a wall. Somehow we managed to stay in touch and find our way without cell phones. There’d be a single hi-fi unit. Your only port­able music would be a tran­sistor AM radio. Or you could hum.

Folks weren’t credit card happy in 1963. The age of ubi­quitous plastic money was just getting started. People paid cash. So no credit card interest payments. Consider that the average household total credit card balance is $15,000. At 20% interest that’s three grand a year. That’s ten percent of a thirty grand after-tax income.

A single family car was pretty usual. Not a gussied up pickup truck pretending to be a station wagon, an actual station wagon. Auto loan and insurance payments for only one car meant less money out the door for that.

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You didn’t spend money on a microwave and food pro­cessor, they didn’t exist. Though, if you were gadget happy, maybe you had a toaster oven and a Veg-o-matic. You’d have basic appliances, not stainless steel fridges with ice makers nor a professional grade cooktop range, which won’t improve your cooking anyway. Dishwashers were manually operated, consisting of a sink of soapy water, a sponge, steel wool, and a drying rack. None of these things had microchips or needed programming, they were all dumb appliances. So the user had to be smart. Not to say we necessarily were.

Wardrobes would be about half the size. Dress clothes for the kids would often be hand-me-downs. Do people now-a-days even know what those are? Only sailors and bikers wasted money on tattoos. You certainly wouldn’t spend the price of a new television for a pair of “gym shoes.” You’d’ve chosen between plain black canvas sneakers or plainer white canvas sneakers. Personal trainer? Nah, Jack LaLane on TV.

Lawn service, riding mower, snow blower, leaf blower? Nope, you’d do the work yourself with a push mower, snow shovel, and rake. Or the kids would as part of their chores. Snowmobile, jet-ski, ATV? Nope, nope, nope. Family cruise vacation? No siree Bob, camping trip. With a mobile home? Afraid not, tent.

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If you’re willing to forgo every medical treatment devel­oped since 1963, your health care costs would certainly be much less than today. Plus, folks didn’t waste time and money on overpriced, dumb-downed college degrees just to be an office drone, either. The authorities didn’t drug misbehaving kids into submission, a simple, and cheap paddling was the method. Which is more humane we leave the reader to decide.

Get the picture? These days we just can’t seem to live without a whole bunch of stuff we used to live with­out. Maybe our incomes don’t seem to go as far as they used to because they have farther to go. The goalposts have been moved in the last fifty years. Both literally and figuratively. In 1963 NFL goalposts were on the goal line and not at the back of the endzone.

According to MIT, “An average worker needs to work a mere eleven hours per week to produce as much as one working forty hours per week in 1950.” Middle class folks in the 50s weren’t exactly living in shacks and eating gruel. We could easily be saving half our income every year. Where does the money go? I think I’ve answered that above.

Today one income could easily support a middle class lifestyle. Of 1963. That’s progress for you. Though I seem to recall progress promised to give us more leisure time, not less. It would have, only instead we we bought lots more stuff we really could do without. And now pay for storage units to warehouse it all.

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