Here’s how much I would have spent today if it was 1950

The key to staying on budget? Time travel.

By Courtney Jordan

Living in New York City is expensive. I tend to keep track of my finances only after the blood-chilling feeling of checking your balance in that half of the month that requires a rent payment. While much of our social climate seems to be throwing it back to an earlier decade, prices have not made that same leap. So, after extensive strategizing, I decided the best way to save a few bucks while still getting my kicks was to time travel back to 1950 with my 2017 cash in tow. Here’s how much I saved on my daily average spend.

Understanding inflation is key here. Inflation is a general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money. Meaning, your money loses value as goods get more expensive. Here’s a good explanation.


In New York City, it’s not taboo to casually ask someone how much they’re paying for rent, as this insanely rude monthly attack on finances is a universally accepted truth among the city’s inhabitants. My one-bedroom walk-up (with no parking, laundry, or dishwasher) hovers around $1,900 a month. But if we just zoooop (rewind noise) back to the 1950s, I could have landed a place for $60 a month. That’s six. zero. And in a better neighborhood no less. There are many reasons for this meteoric rise in rent, but none of them seem fair.

Total saved on a daily basis: $59.


Besides working, I’m also a master’s student at NYU, where tuition isn’t exactly cheap. Because I physically can’t get myself to type the numbers, here’s a graphic from our friends at College Data to help me out.

Ouch. But, in the 1950s, you could snag a whole year of education at NYU for $496 dollars. Please check out these visuals to grasp the craziness that is this fact. I don’t pay room and board, so using tuition only:

Total saved on a daily basis: $132.65


This is the daily indulgence many can’t afford to give up, especially if you just can’t bear the taste of ‘offee’ (that’s the free coffee you can get in the office). If you really haven’t done the simple math of figuring out the real cost of your Starby’s habit, then use this. However, in the 1950s, you could buy a whooole pound of java beans for just $0.79. On average, you could make around 36 cups of coffee per pound of beans. Just think how much more you’d get done if you could afford all the coffee in the world. However, nicer restaurants would charge around $0.10 per cup at this time.

Total saved on a daily basis: $2.35

The Subway

I pay a hot $116.50 a month for unlimited subway rides in New York City. However, for the sake of this article, let’s consider that a singular ride currently costs $2.75 on MTA. When the subway first opened in 1904, rides cost a nickel. But, as the tale goes, the prices began to rise. By the 1950s the cost had tripled to $0.15 per ride. Still though, I’d take it. I typically end up losing out on fractions of fares because I’m not as smart as this guy, who knows exactly how much to put on your card for optimal use.

Total savings on a daily basis: $5.20

Side note: For what it’s worth (pun intended) unlimited MetroCards did not exist in the 1950s, so at least we have the opportunity to save in that cents…I mean sense. Sorry.

Happy Hour

Arguably an unnecessary expense. But in New York City, many would agree this is a fairly standard practice once or twice a week. My co-workers and I frequent a bar a few blocks from the office that serves half-price mojitos for $6.00, and I think anyone would agree this is a good deal. It isn’t uncommon to pay $12 for a glass of wine on any night of the week in this town. In 1950s New York, if you were so boujee as to frequent The Plaza Hotel, you could get a martini for $0.60. I know you’d be havin’ “just one more” at that price point.

Total savings on a daily basis: $5.40 (not including tip)

Not taking into account things like Broadway entertainment, $90 haircuts, and the expenses of building an enviable wardrobe (although, we got you on that last one), these basic costs add up to a hefty monthly bill, and for many, a decade of student debt. There are people living on vastly different levels of income in cities across the country, and New York City has a very unique scale of wealth (a realistic ‘middle class’ salary might be around $80k vs. the national average of somewhere around $40–$50k). So, if you’ve made the wise decision to invest in a DeLorean in the ’80s (or today!), you could be living large on very little coin.