What Was The Cost of Living in 1950

By Krystal Brown

Following the end of World War II, 1950 was a prosperous era for many Americans. While the country was rebuilding and the economy was booming, the cost of living remained low. From housing and transportation to food and entertainment, everyday expenses were a fraction of what they are today.

Average Cost of Buying a Home

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The average home cost in the United States in 1950 was lower than today. The average home value in 1950 was around $7,354. This figure represents the cost of a standard family home at that time. Although the price of a house depends on location, homes in urban areas and nicer neighborhoods cost more.

Average Rent for An Apartment or House

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In 1950, the average rent, including the cost of utilities, was around $42 per month. However, like buying a home, this figure depends completely on the location, as higher rents were found in larger cities and nicer areas. The size of the apartment, the number of bedrooms, and the amenities also influenced the overall rent.

Cost of Common Grocery Items

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In 1950, bread, eggs, milk, ground beef, potatoes, apples, and coffee were all between 3.5 cents and 83 cents. These prices show this era’s lower cost of living and cheaper food production costs. There were typically lower transportation costs, less processing, and a higher proportion of agricultural workers than today.

Cost of Eating at a Restaurant

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A standard meal out in 1950 typically costs around $1 to $2 per person. For more fine dining, the average price was approximately $3 to $5 per person. These low prices reflect the lower food costs, labor, and overhead expenses for restaurants. Dining was considered a luxury, so prices were kept fair to cater to the average person’s budget.

Cost of a New Car

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A standard car in 1950 was around $1,510. This is for a basic car from American automakers such as Ford, Chevrolet, or Plymouth. However, prices depended on how luxurious a car was at the time. For example, a better car could cost more than $2,000.

Cost of Gasoline

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A gallon of gasoline was around 27 cents. This low cost was due to the abundance of domestic oil production, lower taxes, and lower costs associated with distributing gasoline. Depending on the region, prices ranged from 23 cents to over 30 cents. Even in areas with higher prices, the cost remained a fraction of what modern consumers pay today.

Cost of Public Transportation

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The subway or bus ride fare in cities like New York was typically around 10 to 15 cents. In smaller cities, fares were even lower, at just a nickel (5 cents). Monthly passes for unlimited rides were also available for no more than $5. These low fares were thanks to the low operating costs for public transit systems at the time and governments trying to make transportation accessible for everyone.

Cost of Electricity

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The average price for electricity in 1950 was around 2.6 cents per kWh. The price of coal and hydroelectric power and the lower operating costs reflected this at the time. Naturally, regional variations existed. However, it was extremely cheaper than what households today have to pay for their monthly electricity.

Cost of Heating

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The average cost of heating a home with coal or wood was around $50 to $100, depending on the size of the home and how cold the winter was. The average yearly cost for homes using fuel oil was around $100 to $200. These costs were very affordable then, as energy prices and overall living expenses were generally lower.

Cost of a Doctor’s Visit

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In 1950, a routine visit with a general practitioner cost around $3 to $5. However, more specialized appointments ranged from $5 to $10 or more. The low costs were due to the lower overhead expenses for doctors at the time and the lack of advanced medical technologies and treatments.

Cost of Common Medications

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Many basic over-the-counter medicines, like painkillers, could be purchased for just a few cents. Prescription medicines cost less than $1 per fill, and antibiotics cost around 50 cents to $1. Back in 1950, medications had simpler formulas and manufacturing processing, making them significantly cheaper than today.

Cost of Clothing and Household Items

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In 1950, a basic men’s suit cost around $20 to $30, and a women’s dress cost between $5 and $10. Household items such as bed sheets, towels, and kitchen appliances were also cheap, ranging from a few dollars or less. These low costs reflected labor-intensive processing, less automated manufacturing, and the availability of affordable materials such as cotton and wool.

Cost of a Movie Ticket

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The average cost of a movie ticket in 1950 was 36 cents. However, depending on the region, some were as low as 20 cents and as high as 50 cents. On top of this, many theaters offered discounted matinee prices and special deals for children’s tickets. These low ticket prices reflected the modest production budgets of films as well as the importance of movies as a popular and affordable form of entertainment for the average person.

Cost of Personal Services Such as Haircuts and Dry Cleaning

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A basic men’s haircut typically costs around 50 cents to $1, and women’s haircuts range from $1 to $2. Dry cleaning services were similar, with prices averaging around $1 to $2 for a suit or dress. These low costs reflected the lower overhead expenses and wages. Additionally, the availability of these services in local barbershops and neighborhood cleaners contributed to their affordability.

Comparison to Today’s Costs

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The average American family could live comfortably on an annual income of around $3,300 in 1950, which would be equivalent to $38,000 in today’s dollars. The contrast in costs reflects the rise in the overall cost of living over the past seven decades due to factors like technology, population growth, and shifts in the global economy.

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