Inflation, on the whole, is a good thing for the economy. When money is worth more today than it will be tomorrow or next year, people are incentivized to spend their cash now or invest their savings in growing companies to keep pace with inflation. However, since the value of the dollar is something of a moving target, comparing today’s prices to the costs of basic goods from decades earlier can be a little shocking — especially when you realize that you could have purchased six barbecue grills in 1950 for roughly the same price as the single wristband you’re wearing to count your steps.
To show just how much the U.S. dollar has changed over time, GOBankingRates compiled the costs of various consumer goods from across the years. The study went all the way back to 1950 and used old newspaper advertisements and reference sites to find out what $100 could have gotten you in the year you were born.
- What you could buy with $100: 70 cartons of cigarettes
Bakersfield, California, residents could have used $100 to buy 70 cartons of cigarettes, at $1.41 each, from Ted Mills Corner. You would have been just one cent short of that 71st carton.
- What you could buy with $100: One lawnmower
A 1951 ad from Rose Auto Supply in the San Bernardino Daily Sun had an Excello Power Mower selling for $99.50.
- What you could buy with $100: Six spring horse toys
A spring-powered rocking horse toy was advertised for $16.45 at Firestone in a 1952 copy of the Council Grove Republican, a Kansas newspaper.
- What you could buy with $100: One band saw
Sears advertised a 12-inch band saw — which is a saw consisting of an endless steel belt moving over pulleys — for $69.25 in a 1953 copy of Michigan’s Lansing Street Journal. A power handsaw was only $43.50 at the time.
- What you could buy with $100: One bicycle
Sears was selling the J.C. Higgins 26-Inch Deluxe Model Bicycle for $59.95 in 1954. However, if you wanted a pair of bicycles for under $100, the Balloon Tire version was just $39.95.
- What you could buy with $100: Six pairs of shoes
A new pair of Jane Miller pumps was available for just $14.95 in 1955, according to an ad from Young’s that appeared in The Star Press out of Muncie, Indiana.
- What you could buy with $100: Two rugs
A Rose all-wool rug, measuring 9 feet by 8 feet, cost $39.50 at Harris Furniture in Wyoming, per a 1956 ad from the Casper Morning Star.
- What you could buy with $100: One fur coat
While generations of animal lovers have helped make fur decidedly less stylish than it once was, $99.95 was enough to buy a 44 Townley Untrimmed Winter Coat from Annis Furs in 1957, according to an advertisement in the Detroit Free Press.
- What you could buy with $100: One washing machine
A 1958 ad in the El Paso Herald-Post touted a $99.95 washing machine from Frigidaire at Seitsinger Furniture Company.
- What you could buy with $100: 33 Barbie dolls
Barbie hit the scene in 1959 and sold for $3 a pop, according to an advertisement in Illinois’ Freeport Journal-Standard. A C-note would have gotten you 33 Barbies — which translates to a value of nearly $1 million in modern times, based on the $27,450 auction price that one first-edition doll fetched in 2006.
- What you could buy with $100: One mattress
The Salt Lake City Tribune advertised a Simmons “Long Fellow” Mattress — made for people over 6 feet tall — for $99.50 in 1960.
- What you could buy with $100: Two grills
The classic Weber grill — with its beehive shape and black color — has barely changed in the last 50 years. This design is as effective and versatile today as it was in 1961, when the grills sold for $49.95 at one San Antonio store.
- What you could buy with $100: Two pairs of fishing waders
The people of Wisconsin know their fishing gear, so you can bet that readers of Wisconsin Rapids’ Daily Tribune would have recognized whether the advertised regular price of $34.95 for Tyler Insulated Waders at Perry’s was a good value.
- What you could buy with $100: Five toasters
The GE Reflector Toaster had a regular price tag of $17.95 at Pleak Hardware in 1963, which means residents of Greenberg, Indiana, could have scored five of them and still received change back.
- What you could buy with $100: One portable television
An advertisement in the Kansas City Times set the price for a GE Personal Portable TV from Richardson’s at only $99.95. As a bonus, the store also tossed in a free ticket to see the Beatles.
- What you could buy with $100: One cashmere topcoat
The Penney’s in downtown Indianapolis sold 100% cashmere topcoats at a regular price of $79.95 in 1965, according to an ad that appeared in The Indianapolis News.
- What you could buy with $100: Two swimming pools
In this case, “inflation” refers to both prices over time and your kids’ floaties. The advertisement section in Indiana’s Kokomo Tribune featured a Muskin above-ground swimming pool with all-steel walls at a regular price of $39.95 in 1966.
- What you could buy with $100: Six wool dresses
A $100 bill allowed for plenty of variety in your wardrobe during the late 1960s. For instance, Polsky’s in Ohio was selling junior wool dresses for just $16 apiece.
- What you could buy with $100: Two phonographs
People could purchase a phonograph — plus a backup — for less than $100 in 1968, based on the $49 price tag on a Philco Portable 4-speed offered by Lloyd’s Electronic Home Headquarters in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
- What you could buy with $100: Four pairs of binoculars
If you and three other friends were setting out for the now-legendary Woodstock festival but worried that you wouldn’t be able to see the stage, you could have swung by the Shopko in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with $100 to find a solution. A pair of Empire 7×50 Binoculars cost just $21.88 in 1969.
- What you could buy with $100: 12 irons
If you insist on keeping your clothes crisp, a GE Steam and Dry Iron cost only $7.88 at the dawn of the 1970s, per an advertisement in Vermont’s Burlington Free Press. At that price, you could have done a dozen pairs of pants at once for $100.
- What you could buy with $100: Three cribs
A 1971 advertisement in Chicago’s Daily Herald put the regular price of a Sturdy Welsh Baby Crib at $29.97, so $100 would have purchased enough cribs for any family with triplets.
- What you could buy with $100: One speaker set
The early 1970s were a truly glorious era for music. A $100 bill was enough for you to buy Radio Shack Stereo Speakers, which came with 8-inch woofers, walnut cabinets and more.
- What you could buy with $100: One black-and-white television
While the basic technology behind a Weber grill or a clothes iron hasn’t budged much in decades, televisions are entirely different. A 15-inch television without color images — which is hard to imagine today in the era of widescreen, plasma behemoths — was on sale for $89.99 in 1973.
- What you could buy with $100: Four electric slicing knives
An electric slicing knife was cheap enough in 1974 that $100 would have bought you four of them, per an ad in the Idaho State Journal for Osco Drug. The regular price was just $22.99, meaning you would have had about $8 left over.
- What you could buy with $100: One air conditioner
You could keep cool in 1975 without spending too much. A Whirlpool 5000 BTU Room Air Conditioner cost $94.88 in Camden, New Jersey, according to the Courier-Post.
- What you could buy with $100: One eight-track player
What better way to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial than with a Modulaire Realistic AM-FM Stereo 8-Track music system on sale for $99.95? You could have emphasized just how long America has lasted by buying a piece of technology that really didn’t.
- What you could buy with $100: Four tires
A complete set of Goodyear tires ran you $80 in 1977, according to an advertisement in The Herald-Palladium from St. Joseph, Michigan.
- What you could buy with $100: One video game system
Console gaming systems are another technology that has positively taken off since the late 1970s. A Channel F programmable video game by Fairchild only supported 10 games and cost $99.99 at Dayton’s in Minneapolis back in 1978.
- What you could buy with $100: Three cameras
The idea of a “pocket camera” certainly seems odd in an era when every cellphone serves that function, but a 1979 ad in the Poughkeepsie Journal lists them at $28.40 a pop.
- What you could buy with $100: Two portable radios
A Sony AM/FM Portable Radio retailed for $40 in 1980, according to an ad for Fretter Appliance in the Detroit Free Press.
- What you could buy with $100: One BMX bicycle
A brand-new Boy’s 20-Inch BMX With Handbrake cost $99.95 at the dawn of the Reagan era, as advertised in The Herald from Jasper, Indiana, in 1981.
- What you could buy with $100: 25 battery checkers
A Radio Shack Battery Checker cost just $3.99 in 1982, so you could afford 25 of them with $100 to get the job done that much faster.
- What you could buy with $100: Four to 10 pairs of pajamas
In 1983, Switzer’s advertised a sale price of $9.99-$22.99 for Vanity Fair sleepwear in the Arizona Republic.
- What you could buy with $100: Two picnic tables
Anyone hosting a barbecue in 1984 could have secured great open seating if they had used $100 to buy two 6-foot picnic tables at $49.99 each. Your neighbors might have thrown piddling 8-foot or 10-foot cookouts, but you could have blown them away with 12 full feet of table.
- What you could buy with $100: One turntable
While $99 for a Technics SLJ1 Belt Drive Linear Tracking Turntable could have seemed reasonable in 1985, you might have been a little peeved about replacing it with a CD player just a few years later.
- What you could buy with $100: 11 Rubik’s Magic Puzzle toys
Master puzzle solvers could have given themselves a real challenge by getting as many Rubik’s Magic Puzzle toys as $100 could buy in 1986 — which would have been 11 toys, at $8.99 each.
- What you could buy with $100: One personal television
Today, your personal television and pocket camera are a part of your cellphone. If you wanted to watch your stories on the go in 1987, a Sony Watchman Personal TV for $98 was one of your only options.
- What you could buy with $100: One answering machine
Long before voicemail was stored in the cloud, you needed to buy a separate machine to allow people to leave messages for you when you weren’t home. A Sanyo Telephone Answering Machine With Multi-Function Remote cost $89.99 in 1988.
- What you could buy with $100: Four pairs of jeans
Levi’s Men’s 501 Shrink-to-Fit Jeans cost $21.99 per pair in 1989, according to an advertisement in Louisiana’s Abbeville Meridional.
- What you could buy with $100: One cordless telephone
These days, a phone with a cord seems painfully inconvenient. A Sony Cordless Telephone cost a mere $97 in 1990 — which might stir up some real nostalgia for modern smartphone users who regularly pay $700 or more for their devices.
- What you could buy with $100: One electric toothbrush
The Interplak Home Plaque Removal Instrument was an oscillating electric toothbrush that cost you $63.99 in 1991, according to an ad in the Los Angeles Times.
- What you could buy with $100: One Super NES Control Set
With a sticker price of $98.86, a Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1992 cost less than a programmable video game from 1978 after accounting for inflation, but it offered many more options for games beyond just 10 titles.
- What you could buy with $100: Three pairs of golf shoes
If you’re an avid golfer, having a few backup pairs of shoes might come in handy. A pair of Stylo golf shoes cost $29.99 in 1993, according to an ad in the Courier-Journal from Lexington, Kentucky.
- What you could buy with $100: One stepper
The Synchrostep Stepper — which was basically a smaller version of a StairMaster — cost $69.99 in 1994, per an ad in the Honolulu Advertiser. Of course, if you were living in Hawaii, it’s difficult to understand why you wouldn’t enjoy a nice walk outdoors instead.
- What you could buy with $100: Three pairs of jeans
The Atlanta Constitution featured an advertisement from Mervyn’s for women’s Bill Blass Jeans — priced at $29 a pair — in 1995.
- What you could buy with $100: Two portable CD players
In another example of “cutting-edge” technology that has since moved to the verge of total obsolescence, portable CD players were due for the scrap heap as soon as the iPod hit the market. However, back in 1996, a Casio Portable CD Player cost $49 in Alexandria, Louisiana.
- What you could buy with $100: One cellphone
While you would have been limited to only making phone calls, the $99 price tag for a Sprint PCS Phone — after a $50 cash-back rebate — in 1997 is pretty low compared with what a new cellphone costs today.
- What you could buy with $100: One phone with caller ID
Yes, there was a time when companies had to specify that a phone featured caller ID. In 1998, a phone that offered this function would have cost you $39.99, according to an advertisement in the Atlanta Constitution.
- What you could buy with $100: Four shredders
If you really want to party like it’s 1999, how about spending $100 on four shredders and really going to town on your old bank statements? A Fellowes ShredStik Shredder cost $24.99 at the time.
- What you could buy with $100: One stereo
You could have scored a JVC Hi-Fi VHS Stereo Player for $99 in the first year of the new millennium — though, in retrospect, a DVD player might have been the better investment at that point.
- What you could buy with $100: One mattress
A Sealy Dania twin mattress was advertised for $99 in the Chicago Tribune back in 2001.
- What you could buy with $100: One leather chair
In 2002, the Como High-Back Adjustable Leather Executive Chair — which cost $99.99 — would have made you the envy of your office.
- What you could buy with $100: One wireless router
While going without wireless seems unthinkable today, the technology was relatively new in 2003. A Linksys 2.4GHz 4-port Wireless Router was on sale for $99.99 in that year, according to a Best Buy advertisement in the Baltimore Sun.
- What you could buy with $100: One printer
A $100 budget was big enough for you to get an Epson Stylus C86 Printer in 2004. They were selling for $99.99 at the time, according to a contemporary Best Buy ad in the Atlanta Constitution.
- What you could buy with $100: 100 blank DVDs
The recordable DVD came just in time to be swept aside almost immediately as the world pivoted to streaming. However, in 2005, you could have taken $100 and purchased two 50-packs of blank DVDs, selling for $36.99 each at Office Depot, as advertised in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
- What you could buy with $100: One photo printer
For anyone who loves the traditional photo album as well as the digital camera, a photo printer is an elegant compromise. In 2006, you could have gotten an HP A516 for $99.99 at Office Depot, according to an ad in the Chicago Tribune.
- What you could buy with $100: Two flash drives
The cost of buying data storage has dropped precipitously over the years. According to the Los Angeles Times, a Dane-Elec 1GB zMate USB 2.0 from Office Depot would have cost you $37.99 in 2007, which is expensive for today’s standards.
- What you could buy with $100: Three cases of printer paper
According to the Chicago Tribune, a 10-ream case of printer paper was on sale at — you guessed it — Office Depot for $28.99 in 2008, presumably for anyone who needed to print up a whole lot of foreclosure notices.
- What you could buy with $100: One cellphone with a two-year plan
In 2009, the LG enV2 cellphone was offered in the Atlanta Constitution for $99.99 with a two-year plan from Verizon. Of course, with the first iPhone hitting the market in 2007, these “messaging phones” were quickly heading toward obsolescence.
- What you could buy with $100: Two sweaters
An Oscar de la Renta cabled cotton sweater cost $50 in a 2010 issue of the Chicago Tribune, meaning you could have stocked up on exactly two sweaters with $100 — before taxes, of course.
- What you could buy with $100: One George Foreman Grill
An indoor George Foreman Grill cost $99.99 in 2011, according to the Morris County Library’s archive of historic prices.
- What you could buy with $100: One GPS system
Another device that has since become a basic function of your cellphone, the stand-alone GPS device used to be a must for the geographically challenged. A Garmin Nuvi Navigation system cost $99.99 in 2012, according to the Morris County Library.
- What you could buy with $100: Two coffee makers
There has been a lot of ink spilled about just how much money people are “wasting” on fancy coffees, but making coffee at home really is a big money saver. Records in the Morris County Library show that in 2013, a Mr. Coffee 12-Cup Coffee Maker cost $49 — i.e., about 10 of those barista-made lattes.
- What you could buy with $100: 24 golf balls
A dozen Titleist golf balls sold for $39.99 in 2014, according to the Morris County Library, meaning $100 allowed you to buy two packs with $20 left over for your next purchase, should that terrible slice not improve enough.
- What you could buy with $100: One sweater vest
The Cincinnati Enquirer ran an ad for a Calvin Klein Sportswear Sweater Vest that cost $99.50 in 2015. The term “sportswear sweater vest” sure seems like an oxymoron, but you might feel that the style makes it worth the money.
- What you could buy with $100: One down coat
For anyone living in a region where it gets cold, a good down coat can be an absolute lifesaver. In 2016, ladies could pay the $100 price tag for a Packable Down Coat for Her at Macy’s, according to an ad in the Atlanta Constitution.
- What you could buy with $100: One fitness tracker
Counting steps is as popular today as it was two years ago, if not more. The price for a single Fitbit Charge on Black Friday in 2017 — $99 — probably hasn’t changed that much, either. The sporty wristband appeared in a Kohl’s circular.
- What you could buy with $100: One smart speaker device
The rise of the virtual assistant meant that people were willing to pay money to place listening devices in their homes. In 2018, a Google Home Hub was available for $99 if you were buying during Walmart’s Black Friday sale.
- What you could buy with $100: One DNA testing kit
At the moment, you can no longer expect to purchase 70 cartons of cigarettes or 33 Barbies for $100. However, there are plenty of things you can buy now that weren’t an option when brand-name dolls were cheap and smoking was almost unlimited. For instance, you can purchase the 23andMe Ancestry Service for $99, allowing you to learn a bit more about your DNA family.
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Photo disclaimer: Some of the photos might not reflect the specific products described in this article.
Methodology: GOBankingRates used the Newspapers.com archive and the Morris County Library’s historic prices archive to find what the American consumer could buy with $100 in every year dating back to 1950. All items sourced are listed with their regular, non-sale price, except where noted. All data was compiled and verified on Aug. 13-14, 2019.
About the Author
Joel Anderson is a business and finance writer with over a decade of experience writing about the wide world of finance. Based in Los Angeles, he specializes in writing about the financial markets, stocks, macroeconomic concepts and focuses on helping make complex financial concepts digestible for the retail investor.