The RECESSION is upon us, and I have no idea how to handle it. It seems I've always lived with inflation. Sure, I complained about it just like everyone else, but it was a sort of familiar thing to which I learned to adjust. Like our crotchety old cat.
With inflation, you know what to expect. You knew that when you went to the gas station on Mondays the price of gas would have gone up 3 cents over the weekend. You knew when you said "fill it up" that you had just spent the better part of a $20 bill. You knew that the price of your lunch would have gone up a quarter since Friday and you knew that by the time you paid for it you would have to borrow money to bail your car out of the lot at the end of the day. With inflation, you understood that $20 would barely get you home from work.
But at least inflation was dependable. Prices would always go up. You could set your buying habits accordingly. If you needed furniture and happened to have extra money on hand because of a windfall income tax refund you knew that you better go ahead and buy. Furniture would never be cheaper. You could buy in on chairs, for example, at $79 apiece, knowing that they'd be $84 next month and $89 the month after. The Hunt brothers thought they were doing something clever with the silver market. Actually, they were simply using the same psychology the rest of us used with inflation. If you've got the money or can get the credit, buy in.
Of course, while the Hunt brothers were wheeling and dealing with $840 million in silver contracts, the rest of us were operating on a more modest scale. In our family, for example, we bought a sofa -- a fabulous bargain, of which I'm still proud, since the store's ads now indicate the sofa has gone up $10 a section. During inflation, you read ads for ego gratification.
We also bought a lot of chicken. When Perdue roasters dropped to 89 cents a pound, we bought in. I would search through the bin of chickens to find ones that were six pounds or more and load them into my supermarket cart. I got to a point where I felt guilty about hoarding. My family got to a point where they were fed up with chicken.
We shook and baked chicken, we roasted it, we curried leftovers, we did it in the oven and on the grill, and in the stewpot. For variation, I tarragoned chicken, disguising it in a way I thought was particularly delicate. I served this dish with a genuine thrill at beating inflation until one night, just as I was about to sweep into the dining room with it, the men in the family huddled briefly at the table and designated my husband to break the news: no one, it seemed, liked tarragon chicken.
Years ago, when my husband and I married, we used to have steak once a week. We'd have a charcoal grilled steak, a Caesar salad, garlic bread and a bottle of red wine. When inflation came, we changed our way of living: we had steak once a month. From last Thanksgiving on, we had so much inflation and so many obligations that we stopped having our steak-of-the-month altogether. But last February our balance of payments improved and, checkbook in hand, my husband ventured once again into the supermarket in search of what we were by then calling our steak-of-the-fiscal-quarter.
Nine dollars and 11 cents later, he came home with a piece of meat that was large enough to cover most of the serving platter which, it turned out, was about all that steak was good for. Clearly, the steak's producer was trying to beat inflation by keeping the old steer alive until prices got high enough for him to make a, ahem, killing. We tried one more steak in the middle of March, just to make sure we had not got an unusually tough one, but our March steak was awful, too. So we stopped buying steaks. We agreed that during inflation we could not afford to blow eight or nine bucks on something we could neither eat, read or wear.
So we went back to our old standbys, chicken and occasionally ground beef in spaghetti or chili, and sometimes fish. I'm sure there are some people who've sailed through inflation with fish, but these are people who were born with that exotic talent of knowing how to cook fish. I was not. My family can take only so much fried fish with lemon and butter sauce. Ground beef and chicken were very big, in other words, during inflation, but we adjusted. There was a certain sameness about the way we ate -- after all, nothing disguises chicken quite like tarragon -- but it was sort of nice. There was never much arguing at the beginning of dinner about some exotic concoction the children had never tasted. We never had any problems with someone announcing they hated lamb or red meat or veal.
The recession is threatening that life style. The supermarkets have frozen their prices and the president is telling us to save our money. My husband is telling me we should not be using credit cards. Perdue roasters are down to 79 cents a pound and my buying habits are up in the air.
With inflation, I knew how to react to price changes. When chicken was down, I'd dash off to the supermarket and buy in as fast as the Hunts.But now I can't do that. I don't know what to do. Everything tells me that at 79 cents a pound, I can't go wrong in chickens. They're bound to go back up. I know I probably ought to borrow on future earnings and buy another freezer so we can fill it up with 79-cent-a-pound Perdues.
But something has happened to me. Now, instead of buying, I'm waiting. Instead of hoarding, I'm watching. I'm frozen by indecision. I'm having a paralysis of will. Who knows about recessions? What if beef becomes affordable again? What if chickens drop to 69 cents a pound or, dare I say it, 59 cents?What if I buy in now and get stuck with a freezer full of overpriced chickens?
At least with inflation, you knew which way to go.