With movie tickets now $20 a pop and cocktails costing double digits, it seems nearly impossible to purchase anything substantial for a dollar. But there was a time when a few quarters could get you a lot. In fact, it could get you a lot of one very important thing: food.
“In the 1930s, spending a dollar was a splurge,” food historian and author of “A Square Meal” Jane Ziegelman told us. “You could get a romantic dinner for two at the nicest restaurant in town for a buck.”
Unfortunately, the cost of living has gone up steadily over the years, meaning that hard-earned dollar doesn’t go as far. Something that would cost you a dollar in 1937 would come out to $17.56 in today’s money. That’s a whopping 1,650 percent inflation. For food, in particular, the inflation rate has averaged of 3.41 percent annually from 1914 until now, with a peak of 36.7 percent in 1917.
And it’s not just inflation that’s at play here. Food trends play a big part in what chow stayed cheap and what got pricey.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which looks at data starting in 1913, analyzed food prices over a century and found that certain items remained relatively inexpensive over the years while others jumped. Potatoes, for example, were the cheapest item in 1913 and still were 100 years later. Butter, on the other hand, was the most expensive in 1913, but has been surpassed by other items like coffee, steak, bacon and cheese.
The BLS doesn’t even track some food any more. In 1913, hens, corn meal and lard were all popular, whereas in 2013 potato chips, cola, ground coffee, ice cream and yogurt were all tracked, though they weren’t 100 years earlier.
As we enter into an era where the “dollar menu” often has items that cost more, we were curious how much a dollar could actually buy you over the decades. To do this, we relied on vintage menus and grocery store flyers, as well as historical data from the Morris County Library in New Jersey to get a sense of what you could get while dining out.
So, if you’re curious exactly what you (or your grandfather) were eating for a buck back in the day, click through the gallery to find out exactly what food you could buy for a dollar from 1937 until 2000.