Save Like It’s 1917: The Cost of 5 Common Goods Then (Plus How to Save Now)

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Save Like It’s 1917: The Cost of 5 Common Goods Then (Plus How to Save Now)
Justin Horrocks

In 1947, my now 90-year-old Mimi graduated from Columbia College in South Carolina.

She remembers paying about $400 a semester in tuition.

I gasped when she told me. My tuition was something like $15,000 a semester, which is apparently pretty average -- if not below.

So when I came across a GoBankingRates article comparing current prices with historical ones… “click.”

The site examined the current prices of some common purchases and compared them to 100 years ago (in 1917, in case you lost track).

Here are the study’s findings -- as well as ways to save money on these items.

1. Homes

Historical prices
Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

Buying versus renting is a common debate, but the rising price tags of homes nowadays is terrifying. Here’s some perspective.

The price in 1917: You could buy a house for about $5,000 (or $103,777 with today’s money).

The price today: Last year, the average house sold for $372,500.

How to save: If you buy a home these days, you’re likely going to take out a mortgage. That’s expensive, but there are ways to save. Penny Hoarder Steven Gillman wrote about 10 ways you can save money on your mortgage.

There’s also this couple, who saved $18,000 when they bought their first home.

2. Cars

Historical prices
Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder

Fun fact: In 1917, the U.S. was in the middle of World War I, and the price of many wartime products increased, according to GoBankingRates. Cars, though? Those prices decreased.

The price in 1917: Folks could buy a Ford automobile starting at $325 -- or $6,745 today.

The price today: The average cost of a (new) car today is $34,000.

How to save: The good news is we have more resources at our fingertips, including websites to help us buy cars. Carvana, for example, claims to save buyers an average of $1,889 (versus someone stopping by the dealership).

Additionally, Penny Hoarder Lisa Rowan recently bought a new car and has some tips for getting the best deal. If you’re more of a used-car person, we have a beginner’s guide for that, too.

3. College Tuition

Historical prices
College students from the University of Tampa attend their commencement ceremony at Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Fla., on May 6, 2017. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Like I mentioned before, my 90-year-old Mimi graduated from Columbia College in South Carolina in the ’40s, and remembers her tuition being something like $600 per semester.

Mine was about half the cost of a new car.

The price in 1917: The price for a year of private school, including room and board, textbooks and all that good stuff, was about $600. That’s about $12,453 today.

The price today: That same thing now costs more than $45,000 per year.

How to save: Before you go, carefully consider your decision. Look into all your financial aid options, and apply for scholarships.

If you’ve already graduated and are drowning in student loan debt, you still have options.

Consider refinancing your student loans with a site like Credible. That’s what John DePrato did, and he cut his payments down from $850 to $400 a month.

4. Apples and 5. Wheat Bread

Historical prices
Child picking apples on a farm in autumn. Little girl playing in apple tree orchard. Kids pick fruit in a basket. Toddler eating fruits at fall harvest. Outdoor fun for children. Healthy nutrition.

Why these two staple groceries? I couldn’t tell you. (GoBankingRates didn’t explain it either.)

The price(s) in 1917: Apples cost about 2 cents per pound (or 15 cents in today’s money). Everything was cooler than sliced bread because it didn’t exist in 1917, but you could get a whole, unsliced wheat loaf for 10 cents (or $2.08 in today’s money).

The price(s) today: Apples run $1.43 per pound, and sliced wheat bread is $2.31.

How to save: There are tons of ways to save on groceries these days. In fact, this list of tips could save you $200 a month.

But because these listed items are typically fresh, it’s harder to find coupons for them. That’s when you can use the cash-back app Ibotta.

You just scan your receipt, and it’ll give you money back on your purchases. Just the other day, I earned money back on bananas!

Disclosure: Here’s a toast to the affiliate links in this post. May we all be just a little richer today.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.