Tuesday, July 18, 2023

On Buying an Ice Cream Cone


As my wife and I planned a move from one locale to another, we worked with a real estate agent on finding our next house.  As any good agent would, she asked what we wanted in our new residence.  We enumerated bedrooms, baths, size, and so forth, but I also said it should be within walking distance of an ice cream shop.

When I said that, I had in mind the house in Maryland that had been our home for 13 years and its easy walking proximity to the town park, post office, library, and yes, an ice cream shop.  But the agent took the request quite literally when I had intended it more as a metaphor for “convenience.”  I didn’t want to drive half-an-hour to go to the library or mail a package…or get an ice cream cone.

I suppose I learned that from my parents.  My family didn’t own a car until I was 14, though it was rarely an inconvenience to someone not accustomed to owning one.  We lived in a large city but by no means in the middle of it.  Yet when they bought the house where I would grow up they ensured it was on a bus line (very close to three bus lines, actually), close to a grocery store (three of them to be precise), a dentist, a post office, a bakery, the elementary school, and yes, an ice cream store.  (It was a High’s Ice Cream shop; single-dip cone ten cents, double-dip twenty cents, and triple-scoop thirty cents.  In my mind ice cream remains Exhibit A of inflation.  Of course, it seemed like every time we went to High’s for a cone my dad would tell me how when HE was my age he could buy a gallon of ice cream at the creamery for five cents.) 

Interestingly, Joseph Coughlin, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, uses going out for ice cream as a proxy for quality of life.  “You need mobility, freedom, and some cash in your pocket to get an ice cream cone,” he says. 

A small pleasure, yes, but a good way to measure wellbeing, isn’t it?  We’ve probably all read about the findings of recent surveys that show people believe it takes as much as $2 million to be financially secure in retirement.  But digging deeper into those surveys, it appears that is the figure the respondents felt OTHER people needed to feel well off.  Almost half of those same people said THEY were well off, even though their net worth averaged about $550,000.

Wellbeing is obviously much more than dollars and cents.  Health, mobility, strong and healthy family relationships, a circle of friends: these contribute more to the feeling of being “well off.”  But I do believe this assumes some basic level of financial security, because worry about debt collectors and not being able regularly to afford decent food would diminish one’s feeling of wellbeing; thus the “cash in your pocket” component of getting an ice cream cone.

If you are contemplating a move or even retirement, consider all these factors.  What will make YOU happy, not “79% of retirees”.  Surveys and magazine articles that tout “the top 10 places to live/retire” might identify locales that are generally desirable, but tastes and preferences vary.  I don’t especially care if my town has “a vibrant arts scene”.  The real question is “Where can I get some Hershey’s coconut/chocolate/almond ice cream?”

Until next time,


“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19