Inflation is something we all know exists, but don’t often feel the effects of in a tangible way day to day. You may not notice a big difference in the price of meat or clothes from one week to the next, but that change is happening. The value of each dollar you use to buy you the things you need (and want) is changing all the time.

The best way to really see the effects of inflation on our spending power is to take a look at the history of the kinds of items you buy regularly and see see how their pricing has changed over time. Here’s how a few items you’ve likely bought at some point in the past few years have varied in price throughout the last century.

The cost of everyday items in the 1910s:

At the beginning of the century, a dollar could go a lot further. Imagine being able to go to the grocery store and buy enough steak for a full dinner for less than a full dollar – you could buy over five pounds of steak for less than a dollar. A nice suit cost all of $25. And even in the early years of automobiles, when cars were the exciting new technology on the block, people could buy a car for less than a grand.

ford_model_t Ford Model T

The breakdown:

Cost of steak (by pound): 17 cents (.0082 ounces of gold)

Cost of a nice suit: $25 (1.21 ounces of gold)

Cost of a car: $825 for a Model T (technically the price from the year 1908, when the Model T first came on the market) (39.91 ounces of gold)

By comparison:

Cost of an oz. of gold: $20.67

The cost of everyday items in the 1920s:

People think back on the 1920s as a time of glamour and wild spending – an image cemented in our culture by the parties thrown by the fictional Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic book. Yet for all our cultural ideas of excessive spending, most of the costs from that era still look like a pittance to us today. Nonetheless, they show a sharp increase from the prices a decade earlier. Between 1910 and 1920, people had to spend over twice as much for the same amount of steak or a new suit – meaning the value of $1 was essentially halved in that time.

For once, the cost of a car actually went down as the technology became more familiar and manufacturers figured out cheaper ways to make them.

prohibition_protesters Protesting Prohibition

The breakdown:

Cost of steak (by pound): 40 cents (.0193 ounces of gold)

Cost of a nice suit: $60 (2.9 ounces of gold)

Cost of a car: $260 for a Model T (12.58 ounces of gold)

By comparison:

Cost of an oz. of gold: $20.67

The cost of everyday items in the 1930s:

With the thirties came the depression, which caused some items to drop in price, while others continued to rise. In 1930 a steak cost a little more than it did 10 years earlier, while a suit dropped to the same price as in 1910. The cost of cars more than doubled from what someone could buy a Model T for in 1920.

The breakdown:

Cost of steak (by pound): 43 cents (.02 ounces of gold)

Cost of a nice suit: $25 (1.21 ounces of gold)

Cost of a car: $600 (average) (29.03 ounces of gold)

By comparison:

Cost of an oz. of gold: $20.67

The cost of everyday items in the 1940s:

There wasn’t much of a jump in inflation from the 1930s to the 1940s. Suits cost pretty much the same and steak actually dropped a few cents per pound. Cars continued their upward trajectory in price. By this time the price of gold was no longer fixed, so it started going up as well.

football_40s College Football in the 40s

The breakdown:

Cost of steak (by pound): 36 cents (.01 ounces of gold)

Cost of a nice suit: $25 (.724 ounces of gold)

Cost of a car: $850 (average) (24.64 ounces of gold)

By comparison:

Cost of an oz. of gold: $34.50

The cost of everyday items in the 1950s:

The 1950s, on the other hand, saw some serious inflation. The cost of steak nearly tripled, the cost of a car nearly doubled, and suits increased in price by almost 50%. Within a decade, the value of the dollar decreased significantly.

The breakdown:

Cost of steak (by pound): 93 cents (.023 ounces of gold)

Cost of a nice suit: $36.95 (.92 ounces of gold)

Cost of a car: $1510 (average) (37.52 ounces of gold)

By comparison:

Cost of an oz. of gold: $40.25

The cost of everyday items in the 1960s:

The 1960s is our first decade where a dollar isn’t even worth enough to buy you a pound of steak. A good suit costs over twice as much as it did the decade previous and the car continues its rapid increase in price.

moon_landing America Lands on the Moon

The breakdown:

Cost of steak (by pound): $1.05 (.029 ounces of gold)

Cost of a nice suit: $79.50 (2.18 ounces of gold)

Cost of a car: $2600 (average) (71.23 ounces of gold)

By comparison:

Cost of an oz. of gold: $36.50

The cost of everyday items in the 1970s:

While the contrast isn’t as significant as between the ‘50s and the ‘60s (and the price of a suit even drops a bit), from the ‘60s to the ‘70s inflation continues to rise. Steaks cost about a quarter more per pound and the average cost of a car goes up $850.

The breakdown:

Cost of steak (by pound): $1.30 (.033 ounces of gold)

Cost of a nice suit: $56.95 (1.46 ounces of gold)

Cost of a car: $3450 (average) (88.69 ounces of gold)

By comparison:

Cost of an oz. of gold: $38.90

The cost of everyday items in the 1980s:

Kind of like the ‘20s (but with a distinct fashion all its own) the ‘80s are remembered as a time of excess. The cost of every day items increased considerably in this time. The price of a steak nearly tripled, a nice suit almost quadrupled, and the average price of a car more than doubled. The relative value of the dollar versus ten years earlier took a pretty serious dive.

The breakdown:

Cost of a steak (by pound): $3.89 (.007 ounces of gold)

Cost of a nice suit: $199 (.33 ounces of gold)

Cost of a car: $7200 (average) (12.10 ounces of gold)

By comparison:

Cost of an oz. of gold: $594.90

The cost of everyday items in the 1990s:

The ‘90s luckily didn’t see a comparable increase in prices, maybe in response to the excesses of the ‘80s. The price of steak went down a bit (although it’s still over double the price from the ‘70s), and the price of a suit went up a fair amount. The average cost of a car more than doubled.

The breakdown:

Cost of steak (by pound): $2.99 (.008 ounces of gold)

Cost of a nice suit: $279.99 (.725 ounces of gold)

Cost of a car:  $16,950 (43.89 ounces of gold)

By comparison:

Cost of an oz. of gold: $386.20

The cost of everyday items in the 2000s:

The first decade of the 2000s weren’t that long ago, yet there are still some meaningful differences in the prices then and now. The price of steak went up considerably in comparison to the 90s, a suit nearly doubled in cost, and the average cost of buying a new car increased nearly $10,000. The value of the dollar just keeps diminishing at this point.

Y2K Y2K

The breakdown:

Cost of steak (by pound): $4.81 (.018 ounces of gold)

Cost of a nice suit: $475 (1.74 ounces of gold)

Cost of a car: $24,750 (90.78 ounces of gold)

By comparison:

Cost of an oz. of gold: $272.65

The cost of everyday items in the 2010s:

The upward trend continues into our current decade. Steak costs more. While it’s possible to get a cheap $200 suit, the cost of a proper one that looks good and fits well jumps up to $2,000 or more. And the average cost of a new car goes up another $5,000 or so.

The breakdown:

Cost of steak (by pound): $6.07 (.004 ounces of gold)

Cost of a nice suit: $2000 and up (1.41 ounces of gold)

Cost of a car: $31,352 (average) (22.07 ounces of gold)

By comparison:

Cost of an oz. of gold: $1420.25

Today: 

Even between 2010 and now we see some changes. Inflation just keeps pushing prices higher and the value of every dollar you have in the bank lower.

The breakdown:

Cost of steak (by pound): $8.59 (.007 ounces of gold)

Cost of a nice suit: $2,000 and up (1.66 ounces of gold)

Cost of a car: $33,560 (average) (27.85 ounces of gold)

By comparison:

Cost of an oz of gold: $1205.10

The Difference:

Looking at the difference between the beginning of the century and now, the contrast is stark:

  • A steak costs over 50 times more than it did in 1910.
  • Even on the low end, a cheap suit costs 8 times as much; for a nice suit, it’s 80 times more.
  • A car costs over 40 times as much today as in 1910, and that was when cars were brand new and considered expensive. They cost over 120 times more today than in the 1920’s.

The value of a dollar has dipped significantly throughout the century. And while a penny used to be enough for kids to buy some candy or for adults to pick up a newspaper, inflation has rendered it worth so little that it now costs more to produce a penny than it is worth..

In comparison, the value of gold has largely been on an upward trajectory in the last century. While it fluctuates some over time, like any other commodity, an ounce of gold increased in value from 1910 to 2016 by $1,184.43. Going from $20.67 to $1,205.10 means it’s worth over 58 times as much as it was a century ago.

While the value of the dollar plummeted, the value of gold exploded in comparison. Making smart investment decisions is all about playing a long game. Looking back on the trends of the last century, an investment in gold looks like a pretty smart bet.