How Much Have Food Prices Increased Since 1960

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For those of us old enough of remember, it seems like food prices (along with everything else) have skyrocketed. I can remember buying a Hershey bar for .05₡. Personal income was much less than now, but it seemed like it stretched much further. Economists say it's just nostalgic memories, and the truth is that income stretches farther now, than it did, but they use tortuous statistical formulas that bear little relation to reality to prove their point. All I know is what I personally observe, and what I see tells me that $4000.00 per month does not go as far as $100.00 a month did in 1960.

The basic unit for figuring inflation is called the Consumer Price Index, or CPI. It is supposed to be the average change in prices over time for consumer goods and services. It is used to measure both inflation, and adjusting the value of the US Dollar. However, it is a national average, and seldom reflects the realities of everyday living. It just looks good on paper. You can't really use the CPI as a Cost-Of-Living indicator because it does not take into account changes in governmental and environmental factors that affect the consumers well-being, especially on a local level. But they use these figures anyway, to try to tell you that everything is fine, and that prices are less, when they are 'cost-adjusted' according to the CPI.

If you just use straight mathematics, you get a very different picture. Since straight mathematics is the language of science, and has proven itself to be accurate for several thousands of years, I'll put my money on it. Since the Christmas season is upon us, let's use Christmas dinner as an example.

Item 1960 price  1980 price   % increase   2011 price   % increase  
Turkey 39₡ per pound .77₡ per pound 97.00% $1.15 lb. 194.00%
Apples-3 lbs. .49₡ $1.47 300.00% $3.00 100.00%
Carrots-4 lbs. .29₡ $1.28 300.00% $6.00 413.00%
Corn-6 ears .25₡ .75₡ 150.00% $3.00 1100.00%
Flour-5 lbs. .49₡ .79₡ 61.00% $1.75 257.00%
Ham .39₡ lb. .75₡ lb. 92.00% $2.25 lb. 220.00%
Potatoes-10 lbs. .39₡ $1.98 417.00% $4.99 1129.00%
Sugar-5 lbs. .38₡ .50₡ 31.50% $2.05 439.50%

  1960 1980 2011 % increase
Avg Annual Income  5199.00 9494.00 43,584.00 738.4%

Avg. Price Increase since 1960: 429%  

From the looks of things, it appears that personal income has increased much more than food prices, but there are other factors to consider. Gasoline prices are much, much higher now. Also, mandatory auto insurance has to be figured in, as well as the increases in utilities, and especially taxes. Health costs have increased exponentially since the 1960s. So in reality, we have less money to spend on food now, than we did in 1960.

From 1941 to 1960, price inflation was very erratic, moving from high spikes to short periods of deflation. In 1960, prices stabilized with relatively mild inflationary rates. This was very short-lived, as the 1970s brought sharp inflation spikes due to a presidentialy-ordered wage-freeze, and energy crises, the Vietnam War, and uncertain world crop supplies. By the 1980s, inflation had stabilized to around 5%. Inflation remained somewhat stable until the Housing Market Crash in 2007, causing a spike in inflation to over 7%. In 2011, inflation is setting at between 2.11% and 3.53%.

The good news is that most stores run great sales on certain items around Christmas time, on the theory that while you are in the store buying the sale items, you will also buy other things as well, rather than go to several different stores. In most cases, you are probably better off buying at the store with the most sales, rather than going to several different stores, once you figure in the cost of gas, and travel time.

There are several ways you can economize, without affecting the quality of your feast:

  • Bargain Shop-take advantage of coupons and sales. Shop early, and you can save as much as 50% on some items.
  • Consider online shopping-many online retailers offer fantastic deals, and have a much lower overhead than brick-and-mortar stores. Buying online can save you tons of money.
  • Set a budget, and prioritize-decide beforehand how much you are going to spend, and figure out what takes priority, if push comes to shove. Is turkey more important than beer, or green beans? You decide.....
  • Don't get caught up in 'hype'-Name-Brand items advertise enough to make you think they are the best thing since sliced bread, but in reality, most store-brands are very comparable, and in some cases, even preferable. There are many items that I prefer the store brand over national brands. Sometimes, it's just a matter of personal taste.
  • Do it yourself-leave the Stove-Top Stuffing for the amateurs. You haven’t eaten real cranberry sauce until you've made it yourself. There is no comparison between freshly prepared items like stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, etc...and prepackaged swill. It may take a bit more time to prepare it from scratch, but you will save considerably more money, and the end product will be infinitely superior. And, you will have the satisfaction of being able to brag that you did it yourself. That's something that money can't buy. Empowerment is priceless.
  • Be realistic-most people over-cook by ridiculous amounts. Don't prepare enough food to feed the US 7th Fleet if you only have 4 guests coming over. Make enough for everyone to have seconds, and a little extra for unexpected guests, and you'll be in the ball park. More food is wasted over the holidays than at any other time of the year.

Unfortunately, we can't turn back the clock to the wonderful 1960s, but we can limit the damage time has wrought by being smart. Economize, enjoy, and put on some of The Hollies CDs while you are cooking.

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