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2 The Cost Of Living
What do you think it cost to live in this country in 1976? According to the Department of HEW, or the
Department of Agriculture, or another one of those damn-fool agencies--I forget which--it costs $5,500
per year to have a family of four maintain a "Normal Standard of Civilized Decency" or some such
nonsense as that. (I have the facts somewhere on a newspaper clipping, but I can't find it.) If that's true, I
guess my family of two, which spent about one-fourth of that, is by implication half-civilized--probably
we're somewhere between neolithic savages and dibble-stick agricultural barbarians.
We have a neighbor who gets $30,000 and seems to feel his whole life has been ruined because he let
his father talk him out of a job that paid $35,000. The job was a five-year contract in the Sahara Desert-or something like that, I believe.
Probably the ones he envies--the ones getting $35,000--can't stand it that Jones, who isn't half the man
they are, is getting $40,000--an income that would enable them to live Properly. Probably Jones likewise
feels cheated. Keeping up with the Joneses doesn't work because the minute you pass the old Jones, a
new one appears on the horizon. So why bother?
Let's get down to simplistic, logical reasoning. You wouldn't want Howard Hughes's money if you had
to live Howard Hughes's life, right? And you wouldn't want to live a bare possum life either, right?
Ergo, ipso facto, there exists a niche of financial ambition somewhere between those two extremes that
is just right for you. It's up to you to decide where your niche lies.
For your consideration, however, let me try to influence you by our example to look more closely at the
possum end of the possum/Hughes scale. About one rung up from the bottom you'll find Daddy and me.
Between 1 August 1975 and 1 August 1976, we spent $1,498.75. When I totaled up the figures and
handed them to Daddy, his face went all white. Then he sat down and checked that his heart was still
"Impossible!" he shouted. "Where did it all go?"
So nothing else would do--I must break it down to an itemized account. Here's where it all went:
Moonshine ingredients 98.37
Soap and paper products 47.45
Fuel oil 161.66
Cooking gas 87.01
Home improvement material
(concrete, paint, etc.) 335.43
Property taxes 286.00