How do I find out what something used to cost in todays dollars?

There are a number of sources on the internet to help you answer this question.

  • MeasuringWorth.com is an excellent group of calculators, along with an explanation of the strengths and weaknesses of various methods of doing such calculations.
  • "What is a dollar worth?" is from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Users may specify any two years between 1913 and the present and enter a dollar value for goods and services in one of the years, and the calculator will return an estimated value for those goods and services in the other year. The site also includes an explanation of how the CPI is used to make the calculation, as well as links to CPI and estimated inflation rates from 1800.
  • The Consumer Price Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and sources for some foreign price indexes.
  • The University of Michigan has a collection of sources on the Cost of Living
  • The University of Missouri has an extensive collection of web resources on Prices & Wages by decade.

If you need to go back even further or are looking more internationally, there are a few sources.

  • The National Archives of Great Britain offers a currency conversion site, which converts British pounds from 1270 to 2005 (at 10 or 5 year intervals) into the corresponding value in British pounds in today's money. A "Buying Power" option also allows users to specify a figure in British pounds to determine approximately how much wheat or wool that amount would buy during the same range of years. Links from the "Buying Power" pages provide brief overview information on the standard of living, transport, and currency in Britain in each century.
  • The University of Exeter has an annotated listing of Internet and print resources on the current value of old money Included are Internet sites covering the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States, other international sources, historical exchange rates, world GDP, 17th century prices in Southampton and Spain, and prices in Ancient Rome.
  • A History of Agriculture and prices in England: from the year after the Oxford Parliament (1259) to the commencement of the continental war (1793) by James E. Thorold Rogers

There are print titles that you may have access to that also include information on events of the day and salaries/wages:

How much is that in real money? : a historical commodity price index for use as a deflator of money values in the economy of the United States / John McCusker. 2nd ed. rev. and enlarged. Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, c2001.

The Value of a Dollar : Prices and Incomes in the United States, 1860-2004 / Scott Derks. 3rd ed. Millerton, NY : Grey House Pub., c2004.

The Value of a Dollar : Colonial Era to the Civil War, 1600-1865 / Scott Derks and Tony Smith. 1st ed. Millerton, N.Y. : Grey House Pub., 2005.

Another useful approach for locating prices specific to a particular place and time is to consult newspapers advertisements and the classified advertisements for the time and place in which you are interested. If you want to read more, Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson wrote "Better Measurements of Worth," Challenge, in the Magazine of Economic Affairs. (Volume 49. Number 4. July/August 2006. pp. 86-110.


Last Updated: Dec 31, 2020
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