If you’re a consumer for yourself and your family in this day and age, you can’t help but notice that things aren’t what they used to be. No matter how big or small your household is, it’s not hard to realize that a dollar can’t be spread very thin today.
“I remember when gas was only 29 cents a gallon!” Statements like those are familiar refrains as people get sticker shock from rapidly rising prices. It’s not just gasoline, but many other necessities of life. That 29 cent price tag was the national average back in 1953, and you probably got dishes free with your purchase. Better yet, a uniformed attendant rushed out to wash your windshield while he pumped your fuel.
Thirty years later, in 1983, the price had risen to $1.24 a gallon with no freebies to be had. In most states, you were also pumping your own gas. Now, after another three decades, we pay an average of $3.58 per gallon for what has become truly liquid gold.
Gas prices are one of the most noticeable things affected by inflation because virtually everyone depends on a car to get around, whether it’s driving to work, shuttling the kids to school and activities, or running around to shop and to other errands. However, prices have skyrocketed for many other items over the years.
In 1953 you paid an average of $19,368 for a new house, depending on the style and area. By 1983, that price climbed to $89,800. Today you’ll pay around $203,000, but the good part is that you’d have paid a lot more if you’d purchased that home during the housing bubble. In 2008, just before the market imploded, more than 40 percent of houses sold for more than $300,000. Worse yet, if you purchased one of them, you’re almost certainly under water on your loan today.
When Email Wasn’t an Option
The price of a first class stamp was a lot cheaper then than now, too. You could mail a letter for only three cents in 1953. That’s right, it only cost three pennies to mail your letter. By 1983, that went up to 20 cents.
Today, first class postage is up to 46 cents, but you’re probably not affected by it very much. Most Americans depend on email for their correspondence, so the day might come soon when we won’t need to pay for postage at all. If you want to hedge your bets, you can now buy “forever” stamps. They cost the current first class rate, but they’re good indefinitely, even when the price goes up.
More for the Same Money
Television was a relatively new form of entertainment in 1953, and color TVs were a rarity. If you really, really wanted one, you’d pay $1,175. That was a whopping amount back then, considering that you could buy a new car for around $1,700. Today you can still pay over $1,000 for a TV, but that will get you a name brand 55 inch LED flat screen. That’s quite a far cry from the huge, radiation emitting, tube-stuffed consoles of the 1950s.
Back then, you were also limited to just three channels. Today, you have an almost infinite number if you’re willing to spring at least $30 per month for a dish or cable TV. You might even get some of your programming on your computer, iPad or smart phone via a service like Netflix or Hulu. Such concepts were the stuff of science fiction back in those early days, when Dick Tracy’s wrist telephone foreshadowed the 2000s with eerie accuracy.
We watch movies at home on those giant TVs, but in 1953 the only option was to head out to the local one-screen theater, where you paid 60 cents for a double feature with a cartoon before the main show. By 1983, you paid $3.18 to see a single movie and likely saw it at your local multi-screen megaplex. That ticket price is now a whopping $8.36, and you have to contend with patrons who light up the movie house darkness while they send texts and check Facebook throughout the film.
An Occasional Price Drop
Thank goodness for services like Redbox, where movie rentals only cost a dollar or two per day. That’s actually less than the $2.38 average rental price for VHS movies in 1983, and that doesn’t count the membership fees of up to $100 charged by some stores for the privilege of paying them for movie rentals. Of course, you’d pay around $100 to actually buy a movie back then, while $3 to $5 bargain DVD bins are a common staple near checkout counters today.
With all these then and now prices, how much were people actually earning? Sure, a house was less than $20,000 60 years ago, but if you were living in an average household, your income was likely only $3,139. It was likely a one-income household because mom’s job was tending to the kids and keeping the house sparkling clean while cooking up a hot meal every night while dad was out as the sole breadwinner.
By 1983, more women were out in the workforce, and many were juggling their jobs with their same household responsibilities. By then, average household income was up to $18,642. In 2013, more men are sharing the household chores, and that income is up to $51,000. However, that’s still around six percent less than it was before the recession hit.
One Thing We Can Count On
Change is something we can count on, and prices for most things will continue to rise. It’s nice to know that there’s one thing that never changes, which the Book of Hebrews points out: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. —Hebrews 13:8.
Jesus isn’t affected by inflation. He’s the steadfast Savior whose love is always free.