Cost of Living in 1970

We always hear the exasperation in people’s voices when they talk about how much cheaper things used to be. Whether it’s the cost of a new car, a gallon of milk, or a loaf of bread, many people become wistful when discussing how things used to be. 

For those too young to remember or who weren’t yet around, it begs the question – what was the cost of living in 1970? To better understand the prices that our family members and friends enjoyed so much, we have compiled this guide for everyday purchases and expenses, along with their designated price tags. 

Continue reading below to get a better picture of what it was like to live in the 1970s. By the end, you will end up just as envious of the lower cost as those around you have been for years!

A photo of a young woman sitting in a brown ar from the 1970s. She is dressed in a bright yellow 1970's outfit and is wearing 1970s sunglasses

7 Major Events in the Year 1970

To get in the frame of mind as to the circumstances of 1970, let’s look at the most significant events to take place at the time. 

  • American Football League joins with the National Football League
  • The Boeing 747 makes its first passenger flight to London
  • The Jackson 5 are introduced on American Bandstand
  • The voting age changed to 18 from 21 years old
  • Spacecraft Apollo 13 launches into orbit
  • U.S. troops invade Cambodia during the Vietnam war
  • Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died from an overdose, and the Beatles dissolve their band

As you can see, the year 1970 had many different activities in its short 365 days. It makes it easier to see what the world was like culturally and financially with all the year’s actions. 

Food Cost of Living in 1970

To obtain an accurate depiction of life in 1970, it’s essential to review the costs associated with ordinary expenditures. These are items that were vital to everyday life during that time. 

How Much Did a Loaf of Bread Cost in 1970?

Imagine our current life situation and the amount of bread that an average family goes through per week. Between toast, sandwiches, and the occasional grilled cheese, quite a bit gets used. 

Back in 1970, there was less dependence on convenience foods and fast food, so making food at home was more common. Even the simple act of making a sandwich was more typical then. 

Thankfully, there was a cost difference between then and now. A loaf of bread can range between $1.00 to $5.00 depending on brand and ingredients. However, in 1970, you could purchase a loaf of bread for the low price of $0.25.

If you wanted to purchase eggs with your bread, the cost of a dozen eggs in 1970 would set you back $0.62.

What Did a Can of Tuna Cost in 1970?

A picture of an open can of tuna on a white brackground

Canned tuna was very popular in homes starting in the early 1900s. However, 1970 proved to be a difficult period for the industry, with high levels of mercury found in the cans that were being sold on grocery store shelves. 

This series of events slowed the sale of tuna, with many households opting out of the purchase. The cost to purchase an individual can of tuna was $0.29. 

Cost of Sugar in 1970

As we previously stated, there was less of a dependence on convenience foods in 1970. Therefore, more cooking and baking from scratch happened in the home. A core component of such activities is sugar.

To pick up this critical ingredient at the store would cost $0.65. Stores still sold the package in five-pound increments like it is today. However, there were not a lot of sugar substitutes on the market then like there are now.

How Much Did a Gallon of Milk Cost in 1970?

Unless you’re a farmer, milk doesn’t come cheap. For growing families, milk is one of the main staples to have in the home. It is also one of the most requested items on a shopping list and the primary reason for an impromptu grocery stop. 

Purchasing a gallon of milk today can cost upwards of $5-$6, depending on your preferred type. However, in 1970 you could leave the store with a gallon of milk for the price of $1.15.

How Much Did a Can of Coke Cost in 1970?

A photo of a can of an unopened coke laying on a bed of ice chips. The can is bright red and features the words Coca Cola

Today we have many different size options when we go to purchase Coke. Not only do we have a 2-liter and 20-ounce, but we can buy packages that have eight plastic bottles, 12-packs of cans, and even smaller sizes as well.

In 1970, the options were more limited. During that time, you had the choice of glass bottles or 12-ounce cans, which you could also purchase in a six-pack. To buy one can of Coke in 1970 only cost $0.10! And this was costlier than the nickel it had cost for almost 70 years!

Common Expenses in 1970

Outside of food, there were items people depended on to keep their life running smoothly. Additionally, there were entertainment and pastime expenses that were popular at the time. Here is a deeper look at those costs.

Cost of Postage Stamp in 1970

Whereas a single stamp currently (in 2021) costs $0.55, it was a fraction of the price in 1970. Back then, a person could mail off a letter or bill through the United States Postal Service and only be charged $0.06 per stamp

Average Cost of Toothpaste in 1970

A photo of a 3 pack of Colgate toothpaste, one of the most popular brands in the 1970s. It shows three red and blue packs of toothpaste

Just like today, you would pay a higher price for premium, name-brand products in 1970. There were cheaper options available, but it was often a status symbol to purchase name-brand.

If you chose to go this route when buying toothpaste, you could obtain a tube of Crest toothpaste for the cost of $0.77. Considering you can buy Crest in the dollar store today, the price hasn’t increased too much in the past 50 years!

Cost of Cigarettes in 1970

The price of a pack of cigarettes has routinely risen over the years. Often the price fluctuates every year, and the cost is influenced by the different tax rates throughout the United States and the rest of the world. 

Although the cost is much higher now, in 1970, you could purchase a pack of cigarettes for all of $0.46. This year was also when courts made the ruling that cigarette companies could not advertise on television and radio. Legislation passed the law to reduce the number of people smoking in the United States and limit exposure for children. 

Average Cost of a House in 1970

Although purchasing a home depends on where in the United States you choose to live, the nation as a whole has a median price that takes into consideration the cost across the country. Even though this doesn’t paint a clear picture of the typical home price in Kansas, it gives a general idea about the standard price across the nation.

It is necessary to keep in mind that the housing market and the economy can ebb and flow at any time and that the United States has endured its fair share of that. Even so, the median price of a home today is over ten times what it was in 1970. 

If you were purchasing a home in 1970, you would be working with an average price of $17,000. Comparing that to now, the median cost of a home is $199,000. 

Average Cost of a Movie Ticket in 1970

Going to the movie theater is a pastime enjoyed by many. Nowadays, it can be too expensive to enjoy regularly, what with the ticket price, snacks, and parking. It wasn’t always like that, however.

In 1970, the average cost of a movie ticket to see the top movie of the year, Love Story, was $1.55. Adjusted for inflation, which considers the average salary in 1970, the price equals what we often pay today. 

And the popcorn? It cost about $0.75, with an extra dollar for a pop. It was even overpriced back then!

Average Cost of a New Car in 1970

Everyone loves a new, shiny vehicle to drive around. There’s something about the new car smell and the smooth ride that makes you feel like a new person.

However, what people don’t enjoy is the high price tag that comes with purchasing a new car. When you combine that with insurance, gas, and maintenance, the price can be overwhelming.

But in 1970? The price of a new car averaged $3,500. Not only that, but the average cost of gas in 1970 was a mere $0.36!

But how much did a barrel of oil cost in 1970? It may shock you to learn that it was only $3.39 to purchase an entire barrel.

Cost of a Cell Phone in 1970

It is shocking to think that there was ever a world that didn’t include cell phones. But that was precisely the case in 1970. Although landlines existed, mobile phones were not introduced until later in the decade and were the giant white brick version we see in old movies.

However, you could purchase a plan for your landline to use in your home during this time. The plans that you were able to choose from were a bit complex and involved a variety of charges:

  • Cost per line in the home (if you wanted more than one)
  • Charge for extra calls (at times, you were only allotted a set amount per month) 
  • Price for long-distance calls (anywhere outside of your area code)
  • Rental fee for the phone (some plans required leasing a phone through the company)

In a complete switch, today most homes do not even have landline phones. The change to a mobile-only plan started to happen around the year 2005.

Average Cost of a TV in 1970

Television sets today are pretty extravagant and come with a variety of features. Back in 1970, that wasn’t the case. You had the choice of a floor model that was encased in wood or a tabletop option.

Both choices cost under $500. With inflation, including the cost of salary in the 1970s, that is on par with what we pay today. However, we didn’t have the slew of options then that we do now. 

Cost of College in 1970

The cost of a college education is often hard to swallow. And that makes sense, given its colossal price tag. But for those who thought the increase in housing prices between 1970 and today was unbelievable, wait until you see the change in college tuition cost!

In the past 50 years, annual college tuition has increased by over 3,000%. Yes, 3,000. In 1970, a four-year public college would cost under $400 per year. 

Today, those same public schools require a family to earn at least $22,000 over the median income to afford tuition. Private schools have seen a sharp increase as well, although nowhere near the level of public colleges.

Wrap-Up

This comprehensive review of the various costs associated with the 1970’s cost of living paints a clearer picture of the prices we paid back then. Although wages were also a fraction of what they are now, it is interesting to see the difference between then and now.

From items such as tuna, toothpaste, housing, college, and new cars, this guide offers a glimpse into the economy that our country had just 50 short years ago. It helps us see what items have stayed the course of inflation and which have not. 

As a country and as individuals, we have learned from our past. The history of our economy in the USA has always been in an ebb and flow motion. Having reference points to look back on helps us to move forward. 

So, are we envious of the costs Americans paid back in 1970? Perhaps a bit. However, it is worthwhile to keep in mind that most of those prices are on par, if not higher, than the cost of living equivalent we pay today.