The Cost of Living in the 1950s

The Cost of Living in the 1950s: A Comparison to Today’s Prices

The Cost of Living in the 1950s

‍The Cost of Living in the 1950s Photo by Letiha on Pixabay

Note: This article explores the cost of living in the 1950s and compares it to today’s prices. It provides a comprehensive analysis of various aspects, including housing, income, cars, clothing, food, and gas. The information presented here is based on extensive research and aims to provide an insightful perspective on the drastic changes in the cost of living over the years.


The Cost of Living in the 1950s

The 1950s was a time of post-war prosperity and economic growth in the United States. It was an era marked by significant cultural and societal changes. As we delve into the cost of living during this period, it becomes evident that prices in the 1950s were remarkably different from those today. In this article, we will explore various aspects of daily life and compare the prices of goods and services in the 1950s to their present-day equivalents.

Housing and Income

Housing Costs

One of the most significant differences between the 1950s and today is the cost of housing. In the 1950s, the average cost of a new house was around $15,000. This amount may seem incredibly low compared to the average cost of $200,000 for a new house today. Young families during the 1950s typically paid a down payment of $3,500 and a monthly mortgage of $125. In contrast, today, housing prices have skyrocketed, making homeownership more challenging for many.


When examining the average income during the 1950s, we find that it was around $3,300 per year. This figure represented a $200 increase from the previous year. However, in 2017, the average income stood at $61,372, according to the US Census Bureau. The significant disparity between incomes in the 1950s and today reflects the substantial economic growth experienced over the years.

Cars and Clothing

Car Prices

In the 1950s, the average cost of a new car was approximately $1,510. This relatively affordable price allowed more families to own a vehicle. However, today, the average cost of a new car has risen significantly, reaching nearly $14,000. The increase in car prices can be attributed to advancements in technology and safety features.

Clothing Expenses

During the 1950s, younger families often had limited budgets for clothing due to their economic status. Many would wear hand-me-downs and reused clothes. Most articles of clothing cost less than $5, with men’s wool suits being priced around $45. Clothing expenses today greatly surpass those of the 1950s, with the fashion industry constantly evolving and catering to various styles and trends.

Food and Gas

Food Prices

The cost of food in the 1950s was significantly lower compared to today. For instance, a hamburger would cost around 12 cents, whereas today, the average price is approximately $3.81. Similarly, a gallon of gas in the 1950s cost only 27 cents, whereas current prices hover around $2.67 per gallon. These comparisons highlight the substantial inflation that has occurred over the years.

Grocery Expenses

In the 1950s, the average American family spent a little over $800 on food annually. In contrast, today, this figure has risen to over $8,000. The increase in grocery expenses can be attributed to various factors, including inflation, changes in dietary preferences, and the overall cost of production and distribution.

Additional: The Economy and Living in the Age of COVID-19

In recent times, the world has faced the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the virus spreads, economies suffer, and businesses struggle to stay afloat. Temporary closures, layoffs, and furloughs have become common occurrences, leading to financial instability for many individuals and companies. The prices of commodities such as oil have plummeted, and shortages of essential goods, like meat, have arisen. These circumstances emphasize the importance of responsible spending and budgeting in uncertain times.


The cost of living in the 1950s compared to today’s prices reveals a stark contrast. From housing and income to cars, clothing, food, and gas, the changes in prices over time are significant. While the 1950s offered a more affordable lifestyle, the present-day cost of living has risen exponentially due to various factors such as inflation, technological advancements, and changing consumer preferences. Understanding these differences provides a valuable perspective on the economic progress and challenges of different eras.

As we navigate the ever-changing landscape of the economy, it is crucial to be mindful of our spending habits and make informed financial decisions. By considering the historical context and comparing prices over time, we can gain valuable insights into the cost of living and adapt our lifestyles accordingly.

Note: This article was written by Perri Schwartz from B’yachad BBG #2495 in Greater Atlanta Region #55. Perri is a talented writer with a passion for journalism and a keen eye for detail.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual author. The author biography represents the author at the time when they were part of BBYO.

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