How much did things cost in the 1970s - USA?
Are things more expensive today than they were in the 1970s? We look at some everyday items in the USA.
Prices are not the whole story. We must also think about how much people earned.
Average family income in the United States rose from $9,867 in 1970 to $19,684 in 1979. In the 1970s price increases almost wiped out the increase in incomes. The overall increase in real terms was only 7%. 
In 1970 most new houses sold for less than $30,000. By 1979 the median house price was between $60,000 and $75,000.
The auto industry in the USA in the 1970s was not having a great time. Imports were rising and the 1973/4 oil crisis did not help.
Manufacturers responded with some new small cars, such as the Chevrolet Vega and the Ford Pinto.
These are the prices of some typical family cars from the 1970s:
- 1974 Ford Pinto - $2385
- 1974 Chevrolet Vega - $2379
- 1976 American Motors Gremlin - $2898
- 1974 Chevrolet Bel Air - $4358
- 1974 Ford LTD- $4615
- 1975 Chevrolet Monza 2 plus 2 - $3953
- 1975 Chevrolet Nova - $3099
- 1975 Buick Skylark - $3463
- 1975 Oldsmobile Omega - $33203
You could buy these European cars in America in the 1970s:
- 1971 Volkswagen Beetle (German import) - $1899
- 1977 Volkswagen Rabbit (German import) - $3599
- 1978 Volkswagen Rabbit (German import) - $4220
- 1978 Porsche 924 (German import) - $11995
- 1977 Ford Fiesta (Ford Europe import) - $2671
- 1977 Simca 1200L (French import) - $2998
The average price of a gallon of gas rose from 36c in 1970 to 86c in 1979.
In 1974 Harold Faber mourned the age when hotdogs, cigars and cans of beer cost 5c each. It used to cost a nickel to make a call from a public phone booth. In 1974 that came to an end. Some of the last 5c phone booths were the fifty-seven operated by the Taconic Telephone Company in New York State. Taconic was one of a handful of privately-owned telephone companies. The booths were in north-eastern Columbia County and south-eastern Rensselaer County. The company converted them to take dimes as the smallest unit of currency. Others had already increased the minimum cost to 15c. 
A hamburger at McDonald's cost 20c in 1971. In 1979 a hamburger cost 38c and a cheeseburger 43c.
At the beginning of the 1970s, it cost 6c to post a letter in the USA. In 1979 it cost 15c.
Newspapers and magazines
Newspapers in 1970s' USA were still cheap, but prices were rising.
- New York Times - 1970 - 10c, 1971-1974 - 15c, 1975-79 - 20c, 1979 - 25c
Television ownership was almost universal in the 1970s in the USA. How much did a TV cost?
- 1975 - 19-inch solid-state color TV (in Spanish style wood cabinet) - $389.95 (Sears)
- 1975 - 17-inch portable color TV - $329.95 (Sears)
- 1979 - 19-inch color TV with remote control and pre-tuned channels - $589.95 (Sears)
- 1979 - 25-inch color TV in colonial-style wood-finish cabinet - $699.95 (Sears)
- 1979 - 5-inch Go Anywhere AC/DC black and white portable TV with AM/FM radio - $164.95 (Sears)
Other consumer goods
The 1970s' American kitchen was packed automatic devices for every conceivable task:
- 1975 - Microwave oven with browning dish - $299.95 (Sears)
- 1979 - Kenmore microwave oven with digital display - $399.95 (Sears)
- 1975 - Butter Ring popcorn maker - $9.98 (Sears)
- 1975 - Teflon grill and waffle maker - $21.99 (Sears)
- 1979 - Flavourfresh Drip coffee maker - $14.79 (Sears)
- 1979 - 16-speed electronic blender with solid-state microprocessor control - $49.49 (Sears)
Transistor radios were still popular in the 1970s. With the technology much cheaper, novelty and fun radios were common. Transistor radios came in a multitude of guises from Spanish galleons, Campbell's soup cans (as painted by Andy Warhol), vintage cars and toilet roll holders.
- 1974 - Novelty AM radio in the shape of a 1931 Rolls Royce Phantom II Convertible - $17.50 (Sears)
- 1974 - Rest room AM radio, complete with toilet paper holder - $6.99 (Sears)
- 1975 - AM portable radio - $3.95 (Sears)
- 1975 - Sears 23 CB (Citizens' Band) radio - $99.50 (Sears)
- 1975 - Multi-band AM/FM/Hi-Police/air/shortwave/marine and weather band radio - $69.50(Sears)
- 1975 - Cassette player/recorder with AM/FM radio - $49.95(Sears)
- 1975 - AM/FM digital clock radio - $59.50 (Sears)
At the beginning of the 1970s digital watches were an expensive luxury, by the middle of the decade prices had come down.
- 1975 Gents' solid state LED digital watch -$49.99 (Sears)
- 1979 Gents' Phasar Dual-Time Chronograph LCD digital watch - $69.97 (Sears)
- 1979 Ladies' LCD digital watch - $23.99 (Sears)
Electronic calculatorsOne of the first electronic devices you could buy in the 1970s was the pocket calculator.
- 1975 Commodore CBM Scientific Calculator -$58.95 (Sears)
Video recorders were exciting new technology in the 1970s. They were at eye-watering prices:
- 1977 Zenith Betatape -$995 (Macy's)
A huge range of toys was available for boys and girls.
- 1970 - Model Saturn V Moon Rocket - $9.88 (J C Penney)
- 1975 - Bathable baby doll - $12.89 (Sears)
- 1975 - 'Kiss Me' baby doll - $9.95 (Sears)
- 1975 - Barbie doll - $2.77 (Sears)
- 1975 - Barbie's VW Camper Van - $8.95 (Sears)
- 1975 - Winnie the Pooh and friends View-Master stereo viewer gift pack - $4.99 (Sears)
- 1975 - Sky Rider powered model airplane - $14.99 (Sears)
- 1975 - Kojak Stake Out board game - $4.85 (Sears)
- 1975 - Deluxe Scrabble - $12.97 (Sears)
- 1975 - Fire truck pedal car - $33.99 (Sears)
- 1975 - TV tennis game - $17.87 (Sears)
- 1975 - GI Joe (12" soldier doll) Talking Commander - $5.97 (Sears)
- 1975 - Lionel 7-unit electric train set - $53.99 (Sears)
- 1975 - Matchbox car set - $4.97 (Sears)
- 1979 - Crysta-flex skateboard with acrylic wheels - $17.99 (Sears)
Everyone was worried about their health in the 1970s and sales of exercise bikes and other fitness equipment boomed.
- 1979 Bullworker exerciser - $39.50 (Sears)
- 1979 Lady Bullworker - $36.50 (Sears)
- 1979 Deluxe Wheel Cycle (exercise bike) - $129.99 (Sears)
- 1979 Deluxe walking-jogging exerciser (primitive home treadmill) - $299.99 (Sears)
These are some typical groceries that people bought in the 1970s and the approximate prices.
- White bread 3 x 1lb loaves - 85c (Finast 1976)
- Finast Sandwich Bread, white or wheat bread 2 x 20oz loaves - $1 (Finast 1979)
- Red tomatoes 1lb 12oz can - 49c (Finast 1976)
- Nescafé instant coffee 10oz jar (Finast 1972) - $99c
- Savarin coffee (regular, automatic or electric perk) 1lb can - $1.89 (Finast 1979)
- Carnation cocoa with marshmallows 20oz jar - $1.49
- Liptons tea bags (48) (Finast 1964) - 59c
Cakes, biscuits and chocolates
- Pound cake (1lb) (Safeway 1970) - 59c
- Pillsbury biscuits 7 4½oz packets - $1 (Finast 1979)
- Planters peanut butter 1lb 2oz jar - 59c (Finast 1976)
- Pillsbury's gingerbread mix (Safeway 1961) - 29c
Fruit and vegetables
- Broccoli (bunch) - 29c (Finast 1970)
- Green beans 15oz can - $1 (Finast 1970)
- Florida seedless grapefruit 6 - 69c (Finast 1974)
- Sunkist Navel oranges 10 - $1 (Finast 1976)
- Apples 3lb - 69c (Finast 1976)
- American cheese slices (1lb pack) - 79c (Finast 1970)
- Befit Yogurt 5 8oz pots - $1 (Finast 1974)
- Briarcliff butter 1lb - 79c (Finast 1974)
- Swiss cheese 5oz pack - 73c (Finast 1976)
Meat and fish
- Rib roast (lb) - $1.49 (Finast 1974)
- Franks (lb) - $1.19 (Finast 1974)
- Jumbo white shrimp frozen (lb) - $2.99 (Finast 1974)
- Lamb chops (lb) - $1.68
- Roast beef (boneless shoulder or chuck) (lb) - $1.28 (Finast 1976)
Frozen foods and drinks
- French fries 7 9oz packs - $1 (Finast 1974)
- Lenders Bagels 12oz pack - 39c (Finast 1974)
- Howard Johnson's Mac & cheese 12oz pack - 39c (Finast 1974)
- French fries 7 9oz packs - $1 (Finast 1974)
- Minute Maid orange juice frozen concentrate 4 6oz cans - $1 (Finast 1976)
- John's cheese pizza 12oz pack - 79c (Finast 1976)
Read more about historic prices and inflation
- How much did things cost in the 1950s - USA?
- How much did things cost in the 1960s - USA?
- How much did things cost in the 1970s - UK?
 'Statistical Abstract of the United States 1980'
 'Telephone calls for 5c betoken bygone era upstate' by Harold Faber, published in the New York Times March 2, 1974, page 41
By Steven Braggs, September 2021