79% of Americans Don’t Know How Much These Purchases Really Cost

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Most people probably like to think of themselves as shrewd shoppers, buyers with a jeweler’s eye for a great deal. But when it comes right down to it, a lot of Americans don’t know how much basic necessities cost.

That’s why GOBankingRates has conducted a survey on just how much the average American knows about what people are paying for some basic items. The survey asked about the average or median price for six things — homes in the U.S., rent, a year’s in-state tuition for a public university, a new car, a gallon of milk and a gallon of gas — and tracked how many could select the correct answer for a few options.

The survey demonstrates that a lot of Americans don’t have a clear sense of what the typical prices for some basic needs like housing, education and transportation are, with just 21 percent of respondents getting a passing grade on the quiz. So, click through to get a look at where America doesn’t know how much some important things cost.

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1. What is the median home value of a home in the U.S.?

Answer Options and % of Respondents Who Chose Each Answer:

$100,000-$150,000: 31.64 percent
$151,000-$200,000: 17.89 percent
$201,000-$250,000: 15.82 percent
$251,000-$300,000: 15.44 percent
$301,000-$350,000: 7.34 percent
$351,000-$400,000: 4.33 percent
$401,000-$450,000: 2.07 percent
$451,000-$500,000: 1.51 percent
$501,000-$550,000: 3.95 percent

Find Out: What You Can Get in Every State for the Price of  California Home

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Just 15.82 percent of Americans know what the typical home costs.

Correct Response: $201,000-$250,000

Bad news America: Buying a home in the U.S. is probably going to cost more than you’re thinking. A little under 16 percent of those polled got the question correct, with nearly half of respondents undershooting the answer. If you’re in that group that wants to buy a home for less than $200,000, adjust your expectations in your next home search.

However, there was clearly a certain contingent that vastly overestimated what a median home looks like in terms of its dollar value. In fact, more people chose $501,000 to $550,000 — more than double the correct answer — as selected the next two lower answers combined.

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Home prices in the U.S. are trending upwards.

Of course, it’s possible that some of the confusion among those in the poll is rooted in them not be as current as they could be. The median home value declined sharply after the financial crisis, hitting a low point just under $150,000 — the answer getting nearly a third of responses — in early 2012. But since then, home values and prices have been increasing in the U.S. According to Zillow, home values are expected to rise 6.3 percent within the next year.

In Case You Missed It: 20 Beautiful Places to Buy a Home for Under $300,000

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2. What is the median rent price in the U.S.?

Answer Options and % of Respondents Who Chose Each Answer:

$400-$600: 14.31 percent
$700-$900: 28.25 percent
$1,100-$1,300: 30.32 percent
$1,400-$1,600: 15.44 percent
$1,800-$2,000: 6.59 percent
$2,400-$2,600: 2.07 percent
$2,800-$3,000: 0.94 percent
$3,100-$3,300: 2.07 percent

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Just 15.44 percent of Americans know what the average monthly rent is.

Correct Answer: $1,400-$1,600

Once again, America appears to be underestimating the typical housing costs across the country by a wide margin. Not only did just 15.44 percent answer correctly, but nearly three out of four people polled think that the median rent is much lower than it really is. That includes 14.31 percent of people answering $400-$600 — a monthly payment that’s less than half of the average.

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Rent prices are also rising in the U.S.

Once again, part of the issue could be that rents are on the rise across America. The 30 percent of people who say $1,100 to $1,300 would have been correct from late 2010 all the way through mid-2014. However, for the 42.56 percent of respondents answering that median rent is under $1,000 a month, that explanation doesn’t hold water.

Click to See: These Are the 50 Best Cities for Renters

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3. What is the average yearly tuition and fee price for full-time students at public, in-state, four-year colleges and universities in the U.S.?

Answer Options and % of Respondents Who Chose Each Answer:

$4,000: 10.36 percent
$7,000: 10.73 percent
$10,000: 13.75 percent
$15,000: 13.94 percent
$20,000: 18.08 percent
$23,000: 8.47 percent
$30,000: 9.98 percent
$35,000: 14.69 percent

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Just 13.75 percent of Americans know the average cost of going to college.

Correct Answer: $10,000

It might be hard to believe, but yes — you can attend college for $10,000 a year or less. In fact, that’s close to the average annual cost.

Unlike the questions about housing prices, the responses for what the average American is paying to attend college saw a wider spread across the potential answers. The spread from the highest response rate to the lowest — about 10 percent — is less than half that of questions one and two. Five different answers get between 10 and 15 percent of responses, including the correct answer, two higher answers and two lower answers.

And, if anything, those people in the poll might be more concerned about college costs than they need to be. About one in five people answered lower than the correct answer while nearly two out of three answered higher, including the two answers with the highest response rate. That includes one in five people who think it’s double the correct answer and one in four respondents who feel it’s at least triple the actual level.

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Tuition is on the rise, but by less than people think.

The dramatic rise in tuition over the last few decades appears to have many Americans overestimating just how bad things have gotten. While $10,000 represents a level that’s about double what it was just 20 years ago and about a third higher than it was 10 years ago, over half of those polled thought it was actually at least double the current price.

Of course, it’s worth noting that while basically everyone is living in either a home they bought or a rental, only about a third of Americans over the age of 25 have a four-year degree. Though, if people are typically overestimating the costs of attending college by a factor of two or more, it seems possible that the perception of high costs could be one factor keeping more people from pursuing a degree.

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4. What is the average manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for a new vehicle?

Answer Options and % of Respondents Who Chose Each Answer:

$15,000-$16,000: 9.04 percent
$18,000-$19,000: 9.98 percent
$22,000-$23,000: 26.18 percent
$26,000-$27,000: 23.54 percent
$30,000-$31,000: 15.44 percent
$37,000-$38,000: 9.04 percent
$40,000-$41,000: 2.45 percent
$43,000-$44,000: 4.33 percent


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Just 9.04 percent of Americans know what the average new car costs

Correct Answer: $37,000-$38,000 

Spoiler alert: This question had the lowest rate of correct responses in the survey with fewer than one in 10 people correctly identifying $37,000 to $38,000 as the correct range. And, once again, most people were undershooting — some by a wide margin. Nearly 85 percent of respondents answered under the correct answer, including the same number of people thinking the average MSRP was less than half the actual level as got the correct answer.

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Popularity of buying used could skew perceptions.

At the time this survey was drafted, the average transaction price for a car increased 1 percent year-over-year and hit $37,577 in December 2018, according to Kelley Blue Book. However, that price dropped slightly to $37,149 in January 2019. Still, new-vehicle prices are up 4.2 percent year-over-year from January 2018 to January 2019.

One possible explanation for why so many people believe the typical price for a new car is so low is because they could typically rely on the used car market. The number of used cars sold in the United States was more than double that of new cars in 2017, per Edmunds.

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5. On average, how much does a gallon of milk cost?

Answer Options and % of Respondents Who Chose Each Answer:

$2: 24.48 percent
$3: 42.00 percent
$4: 25.8 percent
$5: 5.27 percent
$6: 1.13 percent
$7: 0.38 percent
$8: 0.94 percent

Click to Find Out: What Average Americans Spend on Groceries — and How You Stack Up

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Some 42 percent of Americans know what to pay for milk.

Correct Answer: $3

Finally, something America really understands… dairy. While a large section of respondents appear to be in need of some serious education before they’re ready to purchase a car or house, it’s clear that people have a good sense of what to pay for a gallon of milk.

Not only did 42 percent of the survey correctly answer that the average price is $3, but over half of them miss by just $1, which puts 92.28 percent of those polled within a buck of the right choice.

That said, it’s hard not to wonder about where the nearly 1 percent of people are shopping that they pegged the correct price at an eye-popping $8 a gallon.

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There’s less reason to cry over spilt milk these days.

While the cost of things like tuition, rent or a house are increasing sharply, it’s interesting to note that milk prices are on the decline. The one in four people who answered $4 a gallon would have been right about a decade ago. However, that is because 2008 was a peak in the cost of milk at just under $4 a gallon. Ten years earlier than that, the average price tended to hover around $2.50 a gallon, closest to the $3 answer.

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6. On average, how much does a gallon of gasoline cost?

Answer Options and % of Respondents Who Chose Each Answer:

$1.80: 6.21 percent
$2.00: 20.34 percent
$2.40: 28.06 percent
$2.90: 25.42 percent
$3.50: 15.82 percent
$4.60: 1.88 percent
$5.50: 1.13 percent
$6.10: 0.38 percent

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Almost a third of Americans know the price of gas.

Correct Answer: $2.40

This would be the one product in this quiz that regularly posts its prices on big signs of everyone to see, so you might think there would be an even higher response rate on the correct answer. As is, it’s worth noting that there’s almost three in four people either answered correctly or chose one of the answers that was 50 cents 0 or less from the correct one.

However, about one in seven people did choose $3.50 a gallon, a rate that would be over 45 percent higher than the correct response. And, once again, a pretty curious 0.38 percent of people think it’s normal to pay over $6 a gallon at the pump.

Related: Gas Prices Are Climbing — Here Are 3 Ways to Save Money at the Pump


Gas prices have been volatile over time.

Few things tend to capture the attention of the news media and the general public like gas prices, which have a tendency to fluctuate more widely than other goods. Prices cleared $4 a gallon on average in the summer of 2008 only to plunge to under $2 a gallon by that winter. Last year did show relative stability, though, with prices staying under $3 and over $2.5 for most of the year.

Mover Here: Best Cities for Low Gas Prices and Light Traffic

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Why You Need to Know How Much Necessities Cost

Knowing what range of prices to expect when you’re making a purchase can be important for a variety of reasons. For big purchases like a house or car, it could translate to thousands of dollars that you might be overpaying if you come in with the wrong expectations. And for regular costs like rent, milk or gasoline, you need to have a clear sense of what your monthly and annual costs will be to budget as accurately as possible.

With just 21 percent of the people in this survey scoring a passing grade (getting more than half the questions correct), it’s clear that many Americans aren’t arming themselves with important knowledge about what average costs are for some basic necessities.

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Methodology:  This survey was commissioned by Consumer Track and conducted by Survata, an independent research firm in San Francisco. Survata interviewed 532 online respondents between Jan. 22, 2019 and Jan. 22, 2019. Respondents were reached across the Survata publisher network, where they take a survey to unlock premium content, like articles and ebooks. Respondents received no cash compensation for their participation. More information on Survata’s methodology can be found at survata.com/methodology.