A buck doesn’t go as far as it used to. It never has and never will thanks to inflation, which never takes a break from whittling down the value of money and sending prices up, up, up. That’s why every generation of young people has heard stories from every generation of old people about how little they paid for gas, a movie, or a cup of coffee back in the good old days.
To illustrate the effect of inflation over time, take a look at goods you could once buy with a certain amount of money — say $1,000. In most cases, $1,000 doesn’t buy you nearly as much as it once did. However, there are some rare cases where a grand can actually buy you more today.
Last updated: Sep. 8, 2021
Steinway & Sons Model B Classic Grand
Often referred to by pianists as “the perfect piano,” the Steinway & Sons Model B is used in teaching studios and homes, as well as mid-sized music venues. The 760-pound piano is nearly 7-feet long and approximately 4.8-feet wide and is made of high-quality materials.
In 1915, the Model B in an Ebony Satin finish sold for $1,100, according to the Steinway & Sons website. Today, the same model is valued at $109,000, according to Joshua Ross Pianos.
An Average Sedan
Having a car has been part of the American Dream since Henry Ford rolled out the first moving assembly line for mass production of an entire vehicle in 1913. The cost of an average car today is about $30,000, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which means it would’ve cost you around $2,000 for the average set of new wheels exactly 100 years ago in 1921.
Your $1,000 back then would have bought you almost exactly half a car — or just one that was well under average.
The exact same ratio holds true today. For example, one of the cheapest entry-level sedans currently on the market is the 2021 Nissan Versa, which carries an MSRP of $14,980. That’s almost exactly half of the $30,000 price of today’s average car.
The Sears Greenview Home
It’s hard to believe, but at one time, Sears sold complete home kits ready for construction. The retailer would ship the frame, building materials like lumber, hardware and even painting materials directly to consumers. Between 1911 and 1933, Sears also offered home mortgages.
According to the Sears archives, the Greenview home — a four-bedroom house ideal for “suburb or farm” — could be bought for just $443 to $1,462 between 1915 and 1920. According to Zillow, the median price for a home in the U.S. is $298,933. Adjusted for inflation, the average median price of a home 100 years ago would’ve been a little over $19,600.
Classic Chanel Flap Bags
A purse is a necessity for many women. And for some women, only a designer bag will do. The Chanel Flap Bag was — and still is — an iconic bag designed with military-inspired accents and made with pure lambskin or leather. These were created in a multitude of colors and designs, including traditional black and navy, as well as floral tweed and quilted leather designs.
In 1955, you could buy one Chanel black lambskin medium flap bag for $220, according to Racked. Today, the same bag retails for $7,800, according to Chanel’s website. This means you could’ve bought 35 Chanel handbags for the price of one today back in 1955.
Private University Education
According to BestCollegesOnline, tuition for a single year at a private institution in 1973 averaged out to $9,876. In-state schools cost dramatically less at $2,175 a year.
According to The College Board, the average undergraduate costs for tuition, fees, room and board at a private nonprofit four-year university for the 2020-21 school year is $50,770, though some colleges cost even more. This means four years of private university back in 1973 would’ve still been cheaper than a single year nowadays.
Admiral 25-inch Color TV Set With Stereo/Radio
Color televisions made their way into American homes during the 1960s as more networks started all-color programming. Having a color TV set became a necessity, and in 1966, you could own the 25-inch Admiral TV-Stereo-Radio for $995. Adjusted for inflation, that super-sweet two-footer would cost about 8,383.89 today.
Of course, the price of televisions has actually dropped significantly over the years. You can now buy a 24-inch flat-screen TV from Best Buy for less than $100 for some brands.
One Berkshire Hathaway Share
Multinational conglomerate holding company Berkshire Hathaway wholly owns several well-known companies like GEICO, Kraft Heinz Co. and Fruit of the Loom and owns a significant chunk of other successful companies. Berkshire Hathaway also manages Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, a real estate brokerage franchise network.
When Warren Buffett first bought shares of Berkshire Hathaway — with the intent of eventually taking over the company — he paid about $7.50 per share. Today, Berkshire Hathaway shares are trading at around $430,000.
In 2007, Apple — the first American company to achieve a valuation of $1 trillion — unveiled its iMac, an all-in-one desktop computer. Made with recyclable aluminum and glass, the device helped free workspaces of clutter. The 20-inch model debuted at $1,199.
Today, a new 24-inch iMac can be purchased from Apple for $1,299. Not bad, considering that something that cost $1,199 in 2007 should be close to $1,600 by now based on inflation alone.
One Superbowl Ticket (and then some)
At the time of the Great Recession, the average ticket to Super Bowl XLI cost around $900. A budget of $1,000 could maybe also get you snacks at the stadium.
In modern times, you first have to ask if fans are even going to be allowed in the stadium — and if they are, chances are good that you won’t be able to afford a ticket. In 2021, according to Sporting News, tickets to the Super Bowl were actually cheaper than in years past because of the impact of the virus. Even so, tickets on the secondhand market went for just above $4,000 to nearly $160,000 for the choicest suite tickets.
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