7 things you could buy for $1 in 1950
Megan Elliott, The Cheat Sheet
Living the good life didn’t cost a lot in 1950, at least at first glance.
All that sounds like a bargain until you realize the average family took home just $4,237 per year. Minimum wage was 75 cents an hour, and those with jobs in industries like manufacturing, finance, and government had an average hourly wage of $1.50. When you look at those numbers, $1,200 cars and college tuition doesn’t sound like such a bargain.
In hindsight, 1950s-era prices look low, but things even out quite a bit once you account for inflation. A dollar in 1950 gives you the same spending power as $10 today. So, yes, you may have been able to buy a cup of coffee for a nickel in 1950, but a nickel was worth considerably more back then (about 50 cents in today’s dollars). But that’s not to say some things haven’t gotten more expensive in the intervening 60-plus years.
If tuition prices at Penn had risen in line with inflation, undergrads would be paying $6,000 to attend; instead, the sticker price for an Ivy League education has ballooned to $42,176. The MSRP for a new Beetle is just under $20,000; the inflation-adjusted price of the 1950 car would be about $13,000. Real wages for American workers, meanwhile, have stagnated. Is it any wonder people are nostalgic for the good old days, when a dollar could buy you more than a cup of coffee at McDonald’s? To get a sense of how far $1 really used to go, check out this list of seven things you could get for a buck back in 1950.