FINANCIAL PLANNERS often ask new clients about their first money memory. Mine was about an early encounter with inflation. It involved a favorite childhood snack named fuchka, a popular street food in Kolkata, where I grew up.
The snack is a ball-shaped flatbread, filled with spicy potato mash and topped with tamarind water. As you crunch its crispy shell, the magical flavors burst in your mouth and take your tastebuds on a rollercoaster ride. As a child, this occasional savory treat was my main motivation for earning pocket money.
In my elementary school days, our neighborhood street-food vendor used to sell three pieces for 10 paisa—roughly one cent at that time. I rarely had more than five paisa, for which the vendor gave me just one piece. I challenged his math and demanded fairness. Pestered by this argumentative little boy, he agreed to give me an extra piece with every other purchase. I felt proud of my negotiation skills.
My joy didn’t last long. Out of nowhere, the vendor raised the price to two pieces for 10 paisa. No more extra pieces for me. This came as a surprise. My little mind couldn’t comprehend how and why prices could increase overnight. Angry and frustrated, I ran home to my mother and drew her attention to this injustice.
To my disappointment, my mother seemed more sympathetic toward the vendor than her own son. She told me that prices go up over time but couldn’t explain why. Her advice: Sign up for more chores to boost my pocket money.
My childhood snack is 100 times pricier these days, compared with a threefold rise in U.S. hot dog prices over the same period, reflecting India’s far higher inflation rate in recent decades. Today, inflation doesn’t surprise me. What does is the realization that my mother isn’t the only one who’s clueless about its causes.