Opinion: Prices then and now


Commentary by Ward Degler

We complain a lot about prices. Justifiably, say I who strive to survive on Social Security and a few extra pennies here and there. Still, how out of whack are prices, really?

The Kiplinger folks recently published a comparative list featuring 1985 costs, what inflation has done to them, and what they are today.

The hottest thing around in 1985 was the Rubik’s Cube. We bought thousands of them for $1.99 apiece. Current inflation would put that price at $6.34. The cube today costs 10 bucks.

A first class stamp cost 22 cents compared to today’s 50 cents. In 1985, you could go to the movies for $3.50 and pay an additional 50 cents for a box of popcorn. Today, the ticket costs $8 and popcorn will run you $5.

A Big Mac at Mickey Dee’s cost $2.59 in 1985. Inflation boosts that to $6, but today it will set you back $8. As a further comparison, a hamburger today costs $2. Millions were sold at 15 cents in 1956.

We still got most of our news from the newspaper in 1985, and the daily New York Times cost 40 cents. Today’s daily is three bucks and the Sunday edition is $6. Gasoline was $1.12 a gallon in 1985, which in today’s dollars would be $2.63. Last week, gas was $2.85. Not a fair comparison, actually, since gas prices bounce around like an enraged ping pong ball much of the time these days.

A half gallon of milk cost a dollar in 1985. The average today is twice that. Eggs, on the other hand, cost less today than they did three decades back. Frugal chickens, I suppose.

The average price of a new home in 1985 was around $96,000. Today’s inflation would boost that price to $226,000, while the average today stands at $375,000 or more.

Truth be told, we really don’t have a lot to complain about when we take a look at what has happened to income during the same time period. I earned a little more than $20,000 in 1985. That’s about what Social Security pays today.

On the other hand, technology has improved exponentially since then. A basic computer that cost more than $1,000 in 1985 is yours today for $500 to $700. Plus, it is about a thousand times more powerful.

I remember when the VCR first came on the market. It sold for a whopping $2,000. A few years later, just before DVD players made them worthless, you could buy one for less than $50.

Since I never throw anything away, I probably still have mine somewhere out in the garage. I think there is a box of VCR movies out there, too.