“There is no surviving high inflation” – you seethe.
You’re staring at the price of bread and milk, and a wave of desperation engulfs you.
Only yesterday, a loaf of bread didn’t cost an arm and a leg, right?
It’s as if the prices are on a wild roller coaster ride, taking your sanity along with it. It’s hard not to feel like you’re standing in a bog, uncertain of what comes next.
That’s what high inflation can do – it creeps in quietly, stealthily, stealing away your sense of security and nibbling at the corners of your dreams. And the worst part? It feels like there’s nothing you can do about it.
You want to roll into a ball and let it all go.
Don’t do that!
High inflation is stressful, and it will erode your lifestyle. It is like the eye of a powerful storm for your wealth but, like any storm, it too shall pass.
How do I know that?
My family (and I) lived through extremely high inflation and hyperinflation in Bulgaria in the early and mid-1990s.
Here is our story.
(But first, the facts.)
Inflation Level in Bulgaria in the 1990s
What am I talking about?
How about this?
The inflation in Bulgaria was:
- 2.73% in 1987
- 6.39% in 1989
- 23.8% in 1990
- 338.45% in 1991
- 1,058.37% in 1997
- 2.57% in 1999
When it was all over, my father said:
“We survived. It is okay. Time to rebuild.”
Compared to an inflation rate of over a thousand per cent, 10.4% doesn’t look that bad. (Okay, it is bad but not soul-crushing.)
And the high inflation period did pass.
My Inflation Story
Now, without further ado, let me tell you my story of high inflation. It started with a conversation in 1984.
Prologue: A Conversation About High Inflation and Why You May Wish to Listen to Your Daughter/Son
“Dad, do you have savings?”
My dad smirks and sips his coffee.
He has the aura of a parent set to give his children a money leg-up.
“Dad, if you have any money, you must spend it. Catastrophic inflation is coming, and you will lose it all.”
My dad doesn’t like the thought of losing his money. He knows inflation intimately– his father lost millions to it after WWII.
“Okay. What shall I do with my money?” – he asks smugly. He expects me to ask for it.
“Buy stuff. Anything from gold to land.” – I say.
My Dad doesn’t respond. He looks thoughtful, and I hope he hasn’t simply listened, but he has heard me.
It was 1987, and we were in my apartment in Sofia.
Do you think my dad did something about his savings?
You guessed right – he did nothing.
Over the next decade, he lost his savings – money enough to buy two apartments in Sofia.
How did I know what was coming?
Any sociologist with basic knowledge of economics with half a brain could see it. People just ignored us when we said something.
Chapter One: Money for Nothing…or How Rising Inflation Eats Into Savings
My parents believed that you always help your family.
My dad paid for my education (this is important for the story). He always sent me money when I needed it.
My sister and I had savings accounts from our parents, which my dad planned to give us on our wedding day(s).
His plan worked with my sister. On her wedding day, she received a cheque – it was enough to furnish her new apartment. It was in the mid-1970s.
This plan didn’t work well for me. I am much younger and would rather write Doctorates than marry. But, in 1990, I won a grant to spend a year at the University of Manchester and for that, I needed all my diplomas translated by an approved interpreter and notarised.
My dad gave me my ‘wedding day’ cheque – it just about covered these costs.
Do you see the difference?
We had the same amount of money. My sister furnished her apartment; I paid to translate and notarise my documents. Is your mind blown yet?
How about this – in 1993, the money my dad saved for me would have bought me an ice cream.
Chapter Two: A Christmas Gift of…Sugar
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
I am in a supermarket in Manchester. My shopping trolley is overflowing with durable, delicious, and high-energy food.
Yes, you guessed it!
I was buying mainly sugary, chocolatey desserts.
It was a couple of weeks before Christmas 1990. When all my friends were buying fancy gifts for their families, I bought long-shelf-life food to sustain them. Not healthy, but, as my dad said later, we survived.
My mum and dad survived.
Chapter Three: Where Thanks to Rocketing Inflation, I Buy My Friends an Apartment in Sofia
I pick up the phone and hear George’s voice – a mix of excitement and desperation. He was told he could buy his apartment (state rented) but didn’t have the cash.
George and his wife, Stella, had been my friends for over a decade. When I needed consoling, they were there for me. George distracted me when life got too much and celebrated with me when we were winning at life.
“How much do you need?” – I ask.
George told me a number, less than 300 GBP (because of the sky-high inflation in Bulgaria). I didn’t need to think about it because though my grant was far from generous, I had saved some money.
I wired George the money, and they bought the apartment. This helped them survive the next decade.
It was the Spring of 1991.
And I felt like the best person in the world – such acts do that.
Chapter Four: My Smoking Money Became a Dedicated ‘Mum and Dad Support’ Fund
Can you remember feeling so embarrassed that it still haunts you decades later?
It was spring 1997, and we had just bought an apartment in Sofia.
My mum and dad came to see it and help set it up.
My mum had changed for dinner in a lovely suit. She looked fifteen years younger and so smart!
“You look great, Mum” – I said.
“Glad you like it. And I was so clever with it.”
My mum opens the suit jacket, and I see that the part of the skirt covered by it is in a different, cheap material. This was when I knew my parents were struggling, and I never thought about it. (Well, after this first Christmas, that is.)
I set up a ‘Mum and Dad Support’ fund when we were back in Manchester. Every month I sent my parents the equivalent of the cost of my monthly smoking habit (approximately £150 at the time).
I read the complaints of people having to help their parents financially on the Internet. I didn’t complain. I transferred money every month, and my parents saved it. It didn’t matter to me because I knew that if they absolutely needed it, they would use it.
I wished I spotted the signs earlier. And that I thought to help my sister and my niece as well.
Oh, and I stopped smoking and took up long-distance running.
Epilogue: This is Why I Don’t Panic About the High Inflation Now
My parents lived.
They lived to meet their grandson (born in 2001) and to look after him.
Mum and Dad always had food, medicine, and clothes – John and I made sure of that. (My parents passed in 2010 and 2011, and I still miss them.)
My sister and niece thrived. They live near me, and my niece is a high-level executive in an international market research company.
I am not so concerned about the recent high inflation – it is a bit over 10%, but it is not serious compared to what my family went through.
I have savings. I have liquid investments.
But I also have enough gold coins to help us survive a year if things go catastrophically wrong.
Control is the highest form of trust, as the saying goes.
You can win against high inflation. Leave your worries aside, stop seething at the price tags and focus on surviving. After that, you can thrive without fear and limits.