52c-Serrapede Family in America-1930s: $120 a month (Part 2a)

Special Note and Update 11-26-2017

The attempts to understand the 1930s life style given here are not a recreation of the way Josie managed Sam’s salary.  Uncle Sammy and I could not find exact information on what a housewife spent on food each week.  So I tried creating a scenario where we selected the fresh foods Sam liked best.  Then in Part 2 of this posting I created a menu plan for two to three days.  This exercise was very challenging.  I learned that growing up and coming of age during the Post-WWII economic boom did not prepare me to think as people did during the Great Depression.  It is one thing to have an intellectual understanding that life was difficult and quite another to try to take on the mindset of an era and approach a problem with the restrictions  that were in place at that time.  Josie and Sam never  provided great detail about the hardships of the Great Depression.  Most of the family stories they passed on emphasized working together during times of hardship.

I thank Amy of Brotmanblog: A Family Journey for asking the right questions that led me to create this needed clarification for the posting.


Uncle Sammy and I never heard stories about the Great Depression that focused on extremes of poverty and hunger. Josie, Sam and members of the extended family spoke about how hard everyone had to work to keep their jobs. Family stories emphasized how relatives and paesanos helped each other with everything from providing a few slices of bread, to getting a job and even an introduction to a suitable marriage partner. We learned that the times were worrisome. We also learned what actions people took to remedy their situations. The emphasis was on solving the problem and working with the opportunity that came one’s way. There wasn’t any prolonged analysis of a job offer. The outlook was bluntly put, “No work, no food, no rent.”

Money was never explicitly spoken of so we do not have a point of reference in terms of what Sam’s yearly salary in the 1930s was. Once we locate a 1930 Federal Census entry for Josie and Sam that will change but so far we have not retrieved one at Ancestry. We have the memories Josie and Sam’s daughter Emily shared about the apartments where they lived when she was growing up. These provided a starting point.

I sat down and listed the characteristics of those apartments before preparing this posting. I also thought about the kinds of meals Josie would have made each day. I then went to the 1931 issues of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle to check out the costs of food and rent. The classified ads for rental apartments and the column with food prices gave me some idea of how much things cost. Living on $120 a month was very difficult. We do not know what the monthly budget for the Serrapede family really was but we can say for sure they worked very hard and were very resourceful during the Great Depression. Their daughter Emily grew up feeling loved. She never realized how difficult the times were until she was about 8 or 9 years old. 

Relationship Notes

In this posting we focus on Josie Muro Serrapede. She was the wife of Sam Serrapede, mother of Emily Leatrice, Gerald and Sammy. Josie was EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandmother.

The Family Stories are not dated because they were not recorded during a planned session. These come from conversations throughout the years that recurred many times

$120 a month: a budget for a very thrifty household


Budget for $130 a month submitted by a reader to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 2, 1931.

In the Spring of 1931 advice columnist Helen Worth of The Brooklyn Eagle asked her readers how they would allocate money for necessities a budget of $120 a month. The request was made on behalf of a reader named Elsa who was about to get married.

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52a-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression, Part 2

(This posting is a continuation of 52a-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression, Part 1)

Discussion with Uncle Sammy on Sunday, January 24, 2016

Topic:  What do you associate with the 1930s?

EmilyAnn:  First, I think of what happened on the day the Stock Market Crashed in 1929.  Mom told me that some investors were so shocked or ruined that they soon committed suicide.  Dad always said that as bad as things were that should never have happened.  People live through tough times by drawing closer to each other. Mom and Dad repeatedly emphasized this. With this in mind I wondered how people coped.

My parents and grandparents often told me that the movies offered a great escape.  I think of the Endicott Theatre that was located on 13th Avenue and 70th Street.  Mom and Dad shared many of their memories with me about their happy times at the Saturday afternoon matinees.  One of Mom’s favorite series of films came out towards the end of the 1930s.  She was a fan of Mickey Rooney and the “Andy Hardy” films he made.  Mom thought he was cute.  I couldn’t understand the appeal because as a child I knew Mickey Rooney as an older actor.  When I saw the photos of him as a teenage star I quickly understood how Mom, as a 6 or 7 year old girl, could develop a crush on him.

Opening credit for Mickey Rooney from 1939 film, “Babes in Arms.”

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