Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Much Things Cost--Then and Now


How much does it cost? It’s an oft-used phrase, an oft-asked question. The cost of living affects every part of our lives. We make choices based on an item’s cost.

I’ve always been fascinated with how much things cost in the past. Much of the time, the items seem ridiculously cheap. And yet . . . and yet . . . when taken in relation to income, often what seems cheap isn’t.

For instance, in a Bloomingdale’s 1886 catalog a pair of women’s boots costs $1.75. We can find similar boots today for $49.95.

Yet considering the income of many unskilled city-dwellers was only $740/year . . . They worked 10-12 hours a day, for $.20/hour, six days a week. It’s said that a dollar in 1886 is worth $23.50 now ( ). Let’s make it x 24 to make it a nice number… $740 in today’s money is $17,760. It seems about even-steven. Even the cost of the boots is commensurate: $1.75 x 24 = $42. It’s actually kind of amazing.

The day dress on the left—with a lot of embellishments—cost $4.75 in the Bloomingdale’s catalog. The one on the right, with a lot of lace, was $12.75. Although it’s hard to find a present-day outfit that uses an equal amount of yardage or trim, if we take the 1886 price x 24, that brings up a modern-day cost of $114-$306 for an outfit with a lot of detail. Again, not out of line. 

Let's look at something fancy. A silver-plated napkin ring cost $.29 each (or $1.16 for 4). Now? $27.84 for 4 (but note the modern ones are simple, with no fancy etching.)

A baby carriage cost $11.50. Now? A collapsible stroller with extra storage and cup holders costs $249. Close to the $276 inflation number.

So where is the discrepancy in what things cost then and now? Or is there one?

A basic not-so-nice apartment rented for $15/month. Times 24 = $360. Can people find any type of housing for $360/month anymore? And only the rich owned carriages while almost everyone now owns their own car.

The cost of living in 1886 was pretty basic: lodging, food, and clothes. No charges for cell phones, computers, cable TV, air conditioning, internet, insurance, gasoline . . .  And no income tax or sales tax. 

We have more to spend our money on nowadays. More bottom-line items in our monthly budgets. Our lives are more varied and comfortable. And complicated. But we work shorter hours, spend more time and money on entertainment and recreation, and have something most 1886 people did not:  FREE TIME. We have more options in every aspect of our lives. Is that a good thing? Are we happier?

It still comes down to the fact that money—and buying things—shouldn't be the source of our happiness. The things that have no monetary cost are the things that are priceless: our family, friends, faith, and freedom//Nancy Moser

1 comment:

  1. I've never known how to compare "then" and "now" this way, Nancy. Really interesting. You make a good point about the source of happiness. I'm not really all that different from the woman who looked at the Bloomingdale's catalog and wished she could afford the $12.75 dress ... but had to be content with the $4.75 one. The more things change, the more they stay the same!