Essays > The World of the Soviet Citizen > Consumer goods and the family budget
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How Soviets spent their money, from the end of the 1950s through the 1980s.
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For many years, the cost of things like electricity, telephone, and rent did not exceed one tenth of the family budget. Approximately 60 percent of that budget was spent on food.

The price of basic foods were unchanged for many years [from the early 1960s until the reforms of Perestroika in the late 1980s]. The socialist economy was based on a centralized system of distribution, and not on market mechanisms. Where, when, to whom, and at what price any product would be sold was decided by the party and the government. For example, at one time, by a resolution of the Central Committee and the Council of Ministers, Thursday was declared a "fish day": on that day, cafeterias did not serve meat.

Clothing, shoes, and household appliances were disproportionately expensive given a monthly salary of something like 120 rubles. Shoes, for example, cost 70 rubles, and a man's suit 180. Clothing and shoes, like household appliances, would be repaired many times. The reason was not only the expense: even when people had money, it was often impossible to buy good clothing, furniture or appliances: they simply were not being sold in stores.

The attraction to material niceties and the urge to possess things was called "consumerism" and "petty bourgeois behavior," ethical categories that, it was assumed, were alien to the builders of a Communist society. But a portion of the urban population, including people who lived in communal apartments, were by the 1970s living comparatively well. These people could afford to buy and knew how to "get hold of" consumer items that were not merely necessities but, in the Soviet mindset, were associated with a lavish lifestyle: furniture, carpets, fine glassware, a color television. But even those people who could spend their own money on such luxuries as a private apartment, could not always do that because of limitations, imposed by the regulation of the housing supply.

expand/collapse this text box Further Study
Gronow, Jukka (2003). Caviar with Champagne: Common Luxury and the Ideals of the Good Life in Stalin's Russia.Oxford; New York: Berg.

Humphrey, Caroline. (2002). "The Villas of the 'New Russians': A Sketch of Consumption and Cultural Identity in Post-Soviet Landscapes." In The Unmaking of Soviet Life: Everyday Economies after Socialism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Ledeneva, Alena (1998).Russia's Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking, and Informal Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Harris, Steven E. (2003). Moving to the Separate Apartment: Building, Distributing, Furnishing, and Living Urban Housing in Soviet Russia, 1950s-1960s. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago.

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