8 Things Your Boomer Parents Could Afford That You Can't


Many of us have probably been subjected to the judgement of our Baby Boomer parents, who wonder why younger generations are facing more debt and financial troubles.

I won't defend the spendthrift ways of Millennials and Gen-Xers, but the truth of the matter is that many things are simply more expensive now than they used to be. Baby Boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — paid less for many of the things considered essential now.

Here are eight things that our Baby Boomer parents could afford more easily than we can.

1. A Home

Interest rates were probably higher for Baby Boomers, but the average price of a home was considerably lower, even after adjusting for inflation. The Case Shiller Home Price Index offers a good examination of home prices over time. Through most of the '60s, '70s, and '80s, the index was at about 120. Now it's near 170, an increase of about 40%. During the housing bubble, it topped 220 — that was a near doubling of prices after inflation. No wonder so many of us got into unnecessary housing debt.

2. College

We've all heard stories about Baby Boomers who claim to have attended college for just a few hundred bucks a semester. Indeed, education was a relative bargain for our folks, who in 1975 paid the equivalent of $2,469 for a year of tuition and fees at a public university. The cost is more than four times that today. The College Board reports that we experienced increases of 9.5% above inflation during the 2009-10 school year, and another 6.5% above inflation in 2010-11.

3. A Car

A Baby Boomer may have bought his or her first car in 1970 for $3,450, or $20,781 in today's dollars. The average price of a car is now more than $30,000. The good news for today's car buyers is that quality of cars has improved, and there is a wider range of choices, including many at the more affordable end.

4. Child Care

There's not a lot of data on child care costs for older Baby Boomers, but for those raising kids in the 1980s, things were much easier on the wallet than today. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the average weekly child care payment in 1985 was about $40, or $84 in 2011 dollars. Compare that to the $143 weekly paid by families in 2011.

5. Food

It cost less for your parents to serve dinner. The Department of Agriculture reported that the price of food has outpaced the rate of inflation in many areas, including fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, red meat, and poultry. Fresh fruits and vegetables are 40% more expensive than in 1985, and that's after adjusting for inflation.

6. Health Care

In 1970, per capita spending on health care was a mere $356, or $2,144 in today's dollars. That rose to $8,402 per person in 2010. Some of this increase could be due to the availability of more advanced medical treatment, but there's no doubt it costs more to get sick these days.

7. Going to the Movies

In this case, it may actually depend on the year. A person born in 1946 might have attended the movies as a teenager for 50 cents, or about $4.15 in today's dollars. That's a steal compared to a current ticket, which comes in at $8.61, according to The Hollywood Reporter. But a Baby Boomer attending the movies in the 1970s may have paid prices that, when adjusted for inflation, weren't too much less than today. One thing is for sure: Moviegoers of yesteryear were not subjected to the additional charges for 3D or IMAX screenings that can often add several dollars to the price of a ticket today.

8. Pro Sports Tickets

A ticket to a baseball game cost an average of $28 in 2015, according to Team Marketing Report. The average ticket price is $54 for the NBA, $86 for the NFL, and $62 for the NHL. The cost of player salaries and state-of-the-art stadiums has brought us away from the days when a bleacher seat could be had for $1. At the first Super Bowl in 1967, the average ticket price was $12, or $85 in today's dollars, Sports Illustrated reported. The average ticket price for the Super Bowl in 2014 was an eye-popping $1,250.

What else was cheaper for Boomers than the generations following?

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Guest's picture

And wages are WAY higher now than they used to be. Boomers paid $20.00 a month for a land line too. Cell phone monthly charges???? We could go on and on.

Guest's picture

The costs were adjusted for inflation, and in inflation dollars, people are making less than in the 80s.