Filling the tank at 1950s prices? Actually, now may be cheaper

Filling the tank at 1950s prices? Actually, now may be cheaper

Factoring in inflation, gasoline prices in many areas equate to those of the 1950s.—Getty Images/Cameron Spencer

Wanna fill your tank with 19 cents a gallon gas, the way your father or grandfather did in the heady days of the 1950s, when a brand new sporty Ford Fairlane hardtop auto cost $2,500, and college grads dreamed of landing a $10,000 per year job that would put them on top of the world financially?

Well, the 19 cent gas of the 1950s is doable in many areas of the Mid-South these days. Howzat, you ask? The answer: inflation. That decades-ago 19 cents equates to $1.68 in today’s dollars. With gas having dipped as low as $1.45 at some locations in recent weeks, topping off the tank is actually cheaper than what your father or grandfather paid in their Mayberry days. The cumulative inflation rate: a whopping 782 percent.

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And that $2,500 Ford automobile? In today’s inflated dollars, that would be $21,813, which probably wouldn’t buy an equivalent size car. Maybe a compact Ford Focus. But today’s car is far safer, with more comfort and features, and is more reliable for a much longer period.

The dream $10k salary would equate to $88,229 today, placing you in the top 5 percent of earners. The median home price of $7,300 would today be $175,000 (the Census Bureau showed the median sales price of new houses sold in December 2013 was $270,200; the average sales price was $311,400, both far outpacing the already steep inflation rate — but again, no comparison between houses then and now in terms of size, features, and comfort.

In 1955, the latest model black and white TV set was $250; adjusted for inflation, that would be $2,200 today, which would get you a huge top of the line high def flat screen.

The average annual family food expenditure was $1,275, or $11,250 in current  dollars — again not unheard of for many families today.

Inflation has been called “the silent thief,” because most people don’t notice how the purchasing power of their money is eroded over time.

Although one can’t predict future inflation, if the 19 cent gasoline of the 1950s is $1.68 today, applying the same rate of inflation over 60 years would result in a per gallon price of $14.82 in the year 2075.

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