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How much did things cost in the 1980s - USA?

Houses in Judkins Park, Seattle, 1974
House in Annandale, Virginia in 1987. By 1989 the cost of an average new house had risen to $120,000
Image by Roger W licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Are things more expensive today than they were in the 1980s? We look at some everyday items in the USA.

Prices are not the whole story. We must also think about how much people earned.

The average family income in the United States rose from $21,023 in 1980 to $34,213 in 1989. At the same time prices rose by 50%. The increase in real terms was 8%. [1]


In 1980 the average new house sold for $64,600. By 1989 the median new house price was $120,000; an increase of 86%. [1]

1981 Plymouth Reliant SE
1981 Plymouth Reliant SE
Image by Greg Gjerdingen licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) (cropped).


These are the prices of some cars from the 1980s:

You could buy these imported cars in America in the 1980s:

Gasoline prices

The average price of a gallon of gas fell from $1.19 in 1980 to $1.00 in 1989.

The last days when people made regular use of payphones. New York State increased the minimum change from 10c to 25c in 1984.
Image by Justin Baeder licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) (cropped).

Telephone calls

On June 29, 1984, the cost of a call from a pay telephone in New York State went up from 10c to 25c. The 10c charge was introduced in 1951.[2]

Fast food

A hamburger at McDonald's or Burger King cost 39c in 1984.

Posting letters

At the beginning of the 1980s, it cost 15c to post a letter in the USA. In 1989 it cost 25c. [1]

Newspapers and magazines

Newspapers in the 1980s were still cheap, but prices were rising.


Television ownership was almost universal in the 1980s in the USA. How much did a TV cost?

Other consumer goods

In the 1980s, the microwave oven became the must-have kitchen accessory. Many of the 1970s' gadgets such as waffle and popcorn makers were still popular.

Sony Walkman WM-R202 c1987
Sony Walkman WM-R202 c1987. The Walkman replaced the transistor radio as the teenage gadget of the 1980s
Image by ocean yamaha licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) (cropped).

Transistors and personal stereos

The basic transistor radio was not a big seller in the 1980s. You could still get them for a few dollars. The latest thing was the Sony Walkman personal cassette player. There were many cheaper imitations.

Clock radios with red fluorescent displays were still popular.

In 1988, Sears was still selling their vintage Rolls Royce radio, first introduced in 1974. The price dropped to $9.99.


Digital watches

Digital watches were still popular in the 1980s, but prices had come down from the previous decade.


Video recorders

Video recorders were popular in the 1980s.


In the 1980s you could buy your own phone. You could choose from modern compact designs, heritage-style phones and novelty phones featuring Mickey Mouse or Kermit the Frog.

If you had nostalgia for the recent past, you could buy the standard Bell telephone first introduced in 1951.

Cell phones

Mobile phones were out of reach for most people in the 1980s.

The first hand-held mobile telephone, the Motorola 8000X went on sale in 1983 for $4,000.

Toys and games

Fidelity Mini Sensory Chess Challenger
Fidelity Mini Sensory Chess Challenger. Electronic games were on many children's shopping lists in the 1980s.
Image by Joe Haupt licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Toys reflected their age. There was a Barbie 'Dream Home' for aspirational young homemakers. Barbie also had her own home gym.

There were TV and movie tie-in toys reflecting the latest crazes from Star Wars to the Smurfs.

Electronic toys and games were also popular. They ranged from simple hand-held games to computer chess.

Exercise equipment

The exercise boom continued from the 1970s into the 1980s. Equipment became more sophisticated and expensive.



Pike Place Market
Shopping for fish at Pike Place Market, Seattle
Image by Seattle Municipal Archives licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).


These are some typical groceries that people bought in the 1970s and their approximate prices.

Breakfast cereals

Canned food and tinned food

Hot drinks

Cold drinks

Fruit and vegetables


Meat and fish

Frozen foods and drinks

Read more about historic prices and inflation


[1] 'Statistical Abstract of the United States 1991'

[2] '25c Pay Phone Calls Part of Rises Approved for New York Telephone' by Michael Oreskes, published in the New York Times June 13, 1984, page A1

By Steven Braggs, October 2022

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Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

Mid Century ★ Facts & Figures ★ Collectibles

Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

★ Mid Century ★ Facts & Figures ★ Collectibles ★