Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Baby Boomer’s personal look at inflation July 15, 2022

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Nearly 16 gallons of gas cost $64 on May 22, 2022 in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

BACK ON MAY 22, gas cost $4.10/gallon here in Faribault. As the numbers on the pump scrolled up, finally locking at $64.50 for nearly 16 gallons, I felt a tinge of anxiety. My husband, Randy, commutes some 30 miles round trip to work in nearby Northfield. And at a time when he’d just learned that his job of 39 years would be cut at the end of August due to new corporate ownership, saving money was foremost on my mind. Still is.

Pumping out way too much money for gas… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Today I almost laugh at my reaction to that May pump price. Since then, gas prices have risen even higher to $4.73 in early June, now down slightly and holding steady at $4.69. Recent media reports, however, indicate fuel prices will continue to drop with the average national price currently at $4.63/gallon.

And I thought these late May 2022 gas prices were high. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I haven’t done the math on how much more Randy’s commute is costing him this year. I do know, though, that I think twice now about out-of-town trips. Casual Sunday afternoon drives or drives simply to explore neighboring communities are mostly non-existent. It’s helped also that, since my mom’s death in January, we no longer need to travel 240 miles round trip to my native southwestern Minnesota. Not that gas expense would ever have been a consideration in visiting her.

Farm fresh eggs from a friend. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

And then there’s the cost of groceries. I consider myself a price savvy shopper who buys mostly basics, avoiding convenience foods. We eat simply and aim for healthy. But the price of chicken, our meat of choice, has skyrocketed as has the price of eggs. I cringe every time I see the grocery bill and feel thankful that I’m buying for only two rather than a family. One item I refuse to give up is the 4.4 ounces of dark chocolate (five individual servings) priced at $1.99. It’s my sole indulgence.

Dining out is, for us, an occasional treat. I can’t justify the expense when I consider the multiple meals I could prepare for the price of two restaurant servings. Recently, while vacationing in the central Minnesota lakes region, we ordered appetizers and two drinks at a channel-side restaurant. That cost us $47, tip included. When I remarked on the cost, Randy reminded me that we were on vacation. Still…

As we dined on that waterside restaurant lawn, I observed that plenty of people likely hold no money concerns. Pontoons and other expensive-looking boats glided in and out of dock slips at a steady pace. I felt a bit out of place here, our rusting 2005 mini van parked in the nearby crammed parking lot among all the newer vehicles. Our lives seem vastly different from those boaters and other diners.

Our modest Faribault home, paid off many years ago. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2020)

Yet, despite the economic disparities, I feel grateful. We are debt-free. We own a house. We are now both on Medicare, a mega financial savings after forking out some $20,000 annually in recent years for health insurance premiums for insurance we couldn’t use because of high deductibles.

I try not to dwell on the numbers in our retirement accounts, which show a loss of some $30,000 in the first half of 2022. It’s disheartening, especially as we close in on retirement. Our investment advisor advises us to hang in there, that the market will rebound. We don’t necessarily have the luxury of time. But at least we have retirement and personal savings accounts and are not struggling to pay bills like many Americans.

In all of this, I also feel thankful that Randy and I both grew up poor. Our approach to life and to finances is mostly similar. We don’t need the biggest, best, newest, because we’ve never had the biggest, best, newest. But we’ve always had enough.

TELL ME: What’s your approach to finances and inflation? Are you doing anything to cut costs?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Toy stories at the Minnesota History Center December 11, 2014

TOY: Object for a child to play with.

 

Toys, sign and Twister

 

If you’re a Baby Boomer, that object may have been Tinker Toys or Lincoln Logs, anything space or Western related, a baby doll or Barbie or perhaps a troll. How about a Tonka truck? Twister or Cootie or Candy Land, anyone?

 

Toys, promo on wall

 

The Minnesota History Center’s “TOYS of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s” is a skip down memory lane for my generation. A recent tour of the exhibit, which runs through January 4, 2015, skipped joy into my heart as I spotted toys I hadn’t thought about in years. Sometimes it’s fun simply to forget about today and remember the carefree days of youth. The days of hopscotch and jacks and stick horses and…

Outdoor toys and a play area are part of the exhibit.

Outdoor toys and a play area are part of the exhibit.

I didn’t see a jump rope, though, but perhaps missed it.

Oh, the hours sitting cross-legged with Tinker Toys scattered across the floor, attempting to construct a Ferris Wheel.

 

Toys, Cootie

 

Oh, the anticipation of rolling a six on the die to insert the last of six legs into a Cootie’s body.

Oh, the tears that raged when I discovered my oldest brother had punched in the boobs of my new bridal doll.

Oh, the gratitude to my friend Robin for gifting me with a mini pink-haired troll at my ninth birthday party. It was the only troll or childhood birthday party I would ever have.

Toys, Spirograph

Some artsy favorites like Spirograph, Lite Brite and making bugs from goop.

 

Oh, the delight in creating kaleidoscopic designs with Spirograph’s pens and plastic shapes.

A museum visitor checks out the 1960s exhibit.

A museum visitor checks out the 1960s exhibit.

Memories rolled in waves as I perused the showcased toys. Some I had as a child; many I did not.

In the '50s section of the exhibit, a Christmas tree with coveted toys of the decade.

In the ’50s section of the exhibit, a Christmas tree with coveted toys of the decade.

I remember each December paging through the Sears Christmas catalog (AKA “Wish Book”) that arrived in our rural southwestern Minnesota mailbox, wishing for so much, knowing in my deepest desires that I would never get the Pogo stick I coveted nor the doll that cried with the pull of a string or a new bicycle (mine came from the junkyard).

Space toys were big in the 1960s and my oldest brother had a rocket.

Space toys were big in the 1960s and my oldest brother had a rocket.

I would receive what my parents could afford and I expect they sacrificed much even for that.

Toys strewn across the floor in a play area of the 1970s part of the exhibit.

Toys strewn across the floor in a play area of the 1970s part of the exhibit.

Looking back, that inability to give me and my siblings a pile of toys was a gift in itself. Sure, I wanted the hottest new toy. That’s normal thinking for a kid who doesn’t understand family finances or a parent’s thoughts on curbing greed.

I remember life without TV and our first television, in black and white. And Mr. Potato Head, a popular toy back in the day.

I remember life without TV and our first television, black and white. And Mr. Potato Head, a popular toy back in the day.

Because of my upbringing, I have never focused on material things.

Anything Western related was especially popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Here you see the Western influence in furniture.

Anything Western related was especially popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Here you see the Western influence in furniture. My siblings and I spent countless hours riding our stick horses through the grove and, in the winter, around the house.

Yes, toys are fun to get and give, especially those that encourage creativity and imaginative play and don’t require batteries.

I cherish the blessings of family and home more than anything. I spotted this needlework in the 1970s portion of the exhibit.

I cherish the blessings of family and home more than anything. I spotted this needlework in the 1970s portion of the exhibit.

But it is family that I cherish most. And when I toured the History Center’s toy and other exhibits, I did so with my husband, eldest daughter and son-in-law. Nothing skips joy into my heart like being with those I love.

As we left the museum, we voted for our favorite Minnesota made toy. My daughter and I voted for Cootie. Our husbands chose Tonka.

As we left the museum, we voted for our favorite Minnesota made toy. My daughter and I voted for Cootie. Our husbands chose the Tonka truck.

FYI: For information on “TOYS of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” click here. Just a little heads up: This exhibit was packed on a Saturday afternoon. I’d advise visiting this St. Paul museum on a weekday, especially if you want an opportunity to participate in the interactive parts of exhibits.

BONUS PHOTOS:

My son-in-law noted, as we toured the 1970s part of the exhibit, that toys began to reflect social issues such as being environmentally conscious.

My son-in-law noted, as we toured the 1970s part of the exhibit, that toys began to reflect social issues such as being environmentally conscious.

A 1960s living room.

A 1960s living room.

Never saw this cartoon and I'm glad I did. Audrey carrying a gun? Really.

I didn’t grow up on the Little Audrey cartoon and I’m glad I didn’t. Really, a little girl carrying a gun?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling