Based on the family, income, accommodation and records described on
How a typical working class family spent its money in 1950s Britain
Yearly expenditure 1953-1962
Thumbnail image of the yearly account book, years 1953 - 1962.
Click the image for a larger version.
At the end of every year, my father summarised the monthly outgoings for
that year and entered them into a 'by-year' page at the end of his account
book. The image shows a thumbnail for the page in the surviving account
book, for the years 1953-1962.
The account book was lost to me for many years, but when I re-discovered it, I
thought that the annual expenditures would provide a significant opportunity
to investigate how the cost of living changed over the ten years and to work out a figure for
inflation over that period.
In the first assumption, I was right, but the second proved very much
less straightforward than I had thought.
Using the accounts to Calculate inflation
It seemed self-evident to me that comparing the costs recorded in 1953 (from the
accounts page) with costs under the same headings in the 1962 column of the
annual expenditures page - see the above image - would give good measures of inflation during
How wrong I was!
It was indeed straightforward to put expenditures in 1953 side-by-side
with expenditures in 1962 and calculate how much more money my father needed
or spent in 1962
compared with in 1953. However, as I looked
down the list, I found myself realising that this figure could not be
generalised for every other family because so many changes could be due to
circumstances other than
inflation. For example:
Mortgages. Repayments like those on our house remained constant throughout the
lifetime of the mortgage because they had been set up on a fixed
rate. So there was no change in the ten years, giving an apparent inflation
of zero. Other otherwise similar families may have set their mortgage up
at a different time at a different fixed rate or a variable one.
Heating expenses. In the early 1950s most people heated with coal
fires, but from the late 1950s it became increasingly common for
families to convert to central heating. Ours ran from oil, which was
the cheapest fuel at that time, and then from gas after oil prices were
Travel. My father changed his job
during the ten year period and this necessitated different travel costs
independent of the rate of inflation.
House repairs need attention intermittently and at haphazard rates. So there is no way of knowing
how other families might be affected.
Furnishings costs and holiday costs are
haphazard depending on whims, necessity and availability of money. In the
early 1960s many families were taking advantage of the relatively new
package holidays abroad and would have saved up for them.
Items like a car and a television were not parts of our lives in
These are just examples. My conclusion was that my father's account book could be
used to calculate inflation of particular items of expenditure over specific
but differing periods but that the time and effort required to tease out the
appropriate data would be significant and probably not worth the effort.
Yet there were a few exceptions:
I saw no obvious reason why the costs of
general rates (now council tax), water rates and electricity would have
changed in our house any differently than in any other house, ie for any
reason other than inflation. So they would serve to calculate the inflation
under their headings for the ten year period of 1953 to 1962. The calculation is:
||cost in 1953
||cost in 1962
So the inflation for general rates and
electricity bills in the ten year period of 1953-1962 were both over 30%. Somewhat surprisingly,
though, the cost of
water actually decreased slightly over the ten year period.
Also I felt that the inflation in
housekeeping costs (ie for food and cleaning) should be generalisable across
but it would need to be averaged out for a single adult individual. In 1953, there were three of us
in my home: my father, my mother and me. I was 14 years old. So for the
purposes of calculating housekeeping, I approximated to an adult, making
three adults at home. By 1962 I had left home, so there were only two adults
at home. Hence the following calculation.
||cost in 1953
||cost in 1962
||cost/ person in 1953
||cost/ person in 1962
So, based on my father's figures, a reasonable estimate for the inflation in the costs of food and other
household items between 1953 and 1962 was 49%. No wonder there were strikes
for more pay!
This website Join me in the 1900s is © Pat Cryer.