Grade 3-5

Nothing to Buy

Updated: October 10 2019,

Students compare the Soviet-era marketplace with present-day Russian marketplace.


[Note to teacher: During the reign of Communism in the Soviet Union, there was no unemployment. People had good income regardless of the quality of their work. However, there were very few goods available for purchase.Russia

The Soviet Union decided to distribute goods equally. Therefore, all produce grown and goods manufactured within the Soviet Union were sent to a central location to be distributed to each of the cities and villages throughout the country. (Show the students this map of present-day Russia to show the vastness of the country: or )

Because economic needs differed from location to location, villages and cities frequently found themselves with many goods they didn’t need, and few goods that they wanted. Therefore, many consumers had money, but were unable to purchase what they wanted or needed.

Since the fall of Communism and the Soviet Union, a different economic situation has developed. Since employment and product manufacturing and distribution are no longer overseen by the government, the unemployment rate has risen dramatically. At the same time, the value of the ruble dropped so those who had saved money during the Soviet era no longer had much money. Many companies have come from the west (United States, Europe) and are selling their products in Russia. Therefore, Russian consumers now have plenty to buy but no money to spend.]

Learning Objectives

  • Compare Soviet-era marketplace with present-day Russian marketplace.
  • Demonstrate consumer decision-making in both Soviet-era marketplace and present-day Russian marketplace.

Resource List


Activity 1

After explaining the differences between the marketplaces in the Soviet Union and present-day Russia, divide the students into two groups: Soviet-era marketplace and present-day Russia marketplace.

After the students are divided into the two groups, give each group of students the appropriate “wallet” and list of goods to buy. Explain to each group that they need to purchase enough goods to support their family of five for one week. Then, explain to each group that they have only one Saturday to do their shopping (8 hours). In the case of the Soviet-era group, there were many long lines that consumers had to stand in before they could buy the food or goods.

They will use the tables below to determine how they will best spend their time and money to acquire the goods neededcoins for their families. [ Note to teacher: The value of the Ruble changed dramatically. While it may seem that present-day Russians are earning more, inflation makes those Rubles worthless.]

Soviet-era Wallet: One week’s salary is 50 Rubles (there are 100 kopeks in a ruble)

Soviet-era Prices:

Foods Price Time needed to buy
loaf of bread 25 kopeks 1 minute
Milk 45 kopeks a gallon 1½ hours
Meat 2 Rubles for 2 pounds If available,3 hours
Potatoes 3 kopeks for 2 pounds 1 minute
Fruits 25 kopeks for 2 pounds If available, 3 hours
Rice 78 kopeks for 1 pound 1 minute
Cereal Not Available
Soda Not Available
Snacks like Potato Chips Not Available
Cheese 1 Ruble for 2 Pounds If Available, 2 hours
Macaroni 20 kopeks for 1 pound 1 minute
Flour 82 kopeks for 4 pounds 2 hours
Sugar 1 Ruble for 1 pound 2 hours
Juice Not Available
Frozen Prepared Foods Not Available
McDonalds Not Available


Goods Price Time Needed to Buy
Toilet Paper 2 kopeks per roll 1 minute
Toothpaste 12 kopeks per tube 2 hours
Soap 10 kopeks per bar 2 hours
Shampoo 1 Ruble per bottle If available, 3 hours
Conditioner Not Available
Matches 1 kopeks per box 1 minute
Laundry Detergent 2 Rubles per box 2 hours
Disposable Diapers Not Available
Paper Towels Not Available
Gasoline for car 60 kopeks per Gallon If Available, 6 hours
Pet Food Not Available

Present-day Wallet: 500 Rubles

Present-day Russia Prices:

Foods Price Time needed to buy
loaf of bread 10 Rubles 1 minute
Milk 45 Rubles per Gallon 1 minute
Meat 60 Rubles for 2 pounds 1 minute
Potatoes 20 Rubles for 2 pounds 1 minute
Fruits 40 Rubles for 2 pounds 1 minute
Rice 10 Rubles for 1 pound 1 minute
Cereal 15 Rubles for 1 box 1 minute
Soda 40 Rubles for 2 Liters 1 minute
Snacks like Potato Chips 25 Rubles for 1 large bag 1 minute
Cheese 60 Rubles for 2 pounds 1 minute
Macaroni 5 Rubles for 1 pound 1 minute
Flour 40 Rubles for 4 pounds 1 minute
Sugar 20 Rubles for 1 pound 1 minute
Juice 5 Rubles for 1 gallon 1 minute
Frozen Prepared Foods 150 Rubles for 1 frozen pizza 1 minute
McDonalds 40 Rubles for a Cheeseburger 1 minute


Goods Price Time Needed to Buy
Toilet Paper 5 Rubles per roll 1 minute
Toothpaste 20 Rubles per tube 1 minute
Soap 5 Rubles per bar 1 minute
Shampoo 40 Rubles per bottle 1 minute
Conditioner 40 Rubles per bottle 1 minute
Matches 1 Ruble per box 1 minute
Laundry Detergent 20 Rubles per box 1 minute
Disposable Diapers 80 Rubles for 28 1 minute
Paper Towels 15 Rubles per roll 1 minute
Gasoline for car 40 Rubles per gallon 1 minute
Pet Food 20 Rubles per bag 1 minute

Students must decide how to spend their income and their time. They should generate a list on chart-paper of all of the food and goods that they bought and how much money they have left over. They should also calculate the amount of time they needed to purchase all of those goods.

Discussion Questions

After students have shared their shopping lists, discuss the following:

  1. Would you rather shop in the Soviet-era or present-day Russia? Why? [answers will vary]
  2. Which group had more money to spend compared to the cost? [Soviet-era group]
  3. Which group had more choices of goods to buy? [present-day Russians]
  4. By how much did the price of milk increase between the Soviet Era and present-day Russia? [100 times more expensive]
  5. How much did the average wage increase? [10 times]
  6. What do the two calculations above suggest about the state of the present-day Russian economy compared to the Soviet Era economy? [Wages have not increased as much as price. The economy is not as strong].
  7. How much money did the Soviet Era consumers have after shopping? [answers vary]
  8. What does that suggest about the economy in the Soviet Union? [It suggests that while consumers have plenty of money to spend, they do not have enough goods to buy. Therefore, the economy is not as strong as it appears.]
  9. Go here to read reviews of restaurants in St. Petersburg. Remember that $1 = 27 Rubles.
  • In dollars, how much was the author’s meal at Count Suvorov? [$17]
  • In Rubles, how much is the same meal? [459 Rubles]
  • What is the average Russian consumer’s wage? [500 Rubles] Could he or she afford to eat a meal at Count Suvorov? [No. It would cost nearly one week’s wages for one meal.]


Have the students answer the following questions and turn them in when they have finished.

View Interactive Activity


  1. Where would you rather live: in the Soviet Union or in present-day Russia? Why?
    [Opinion answer. Must be supported by information from the lesson.]
  2. How do you think the economy in the Soviet Union affected relationships between people? Why?
    [Answers will vary. Look for allusions to distrust and dependence on government.]
  3. How do you think the economy in the present-day Russia affects relationships between people? Why?
    [Answer will vary. A market system is the ultimate expression of social cooperation, individuals truck, barter and exchange with each other those goods and services which have value. The price system allows information about the relative scarcities of goods and services to flow and individuals and firms change their behavior accordingly.]

Extension Activity

Is the Ruble Becoming Rubbish?

In this partner-approved (Illuminations) lesson plan for grades 8-12, students “analyze the effects of economic turmoil on various segments of the Russian economy and relate them to the local economy and their own lives. ” Although this plan is written for older students, it can be easily adapted to a fifth-grade classroom. There are also some interesting Extension Activities at the end of the lesson.