The Cost of Everyday Life Back in 1959


In 1959, America was in a period of transition. Post-war optimism was in full swing, rock and roll ruled the airwaves, and a new sense of prosperity emerged. But what did daily life actually cost back then? Let’s explore some fascinating aspects of the cost of living in 1959.

Housing Costs

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In 1959, owning a home was more attainable for the average family. The median home price was around $12,400, which seems like a bargain compared to today’s prices. Mortgage rates were reasonable, and young families could buy their first home. Suburban neighborhoods flourished, offering an ideal mix of affordability and quality of life. Renting was affordable, with the average monthly rent being $71.

Grocery Bills


Heading to the supermarket in 1959 didn’t strain the wallet as it does now. A loaf of bread cost roughly 20 cents, while a gallon of milk averaged $1.01. Fresh produce and meat were also cheaper, largely reflecting the agricultural abundance of the era. Family meals were more home-cooked than processed foods.

Gasoline Prices

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For car owners, fueling up was a much lighter burden. Gasoline was approximately 25 cents per gallon. The rise of the automobile culture was in full swing, with highways expanding and cars becoming more accessible. Gas stations often offered full-service options to add a personal touch to each fill-up.

Entertainment Expenses


Enjoying a night out in 1959 was a simple pleasure. Movie tickets cost about 51 cents, and an average family could conveniently enjoy Hollywood’s golden age. Drive-in theaters were all the rage, and music lovers bought vinyl records for $3. Television, though black-and-white, was a growing source of entertainment, with more households owning sets each year.

Clothing and Fashion

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Fashion balanced style with affordability. A man’s suit averaged $45, while a woman’s dress could be purchased for roughly $10. Department stores were flourishing and provided a range of options for different budgets. Many clothes were home-sewn, a testament to the era’s DIY spirit. Accessories like shoes and handbags were similarly budget-friendly. This allowed people to keep up with trends without overspending.

Healthcare Costs


Medical expenses in 1959 were relatively low compared to today. A doctor’s visit typically costs around $5, and a hospital stay runs about $30 per day. Health insurance was becoming more common, and prescriptions were affordable, so most people managed their health without financial strain.

Education Expenses

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Annual tuition at a public university averaged $200 and was easily accessible to many families. Scholarships and grants were available to ease the financial burden further. Public school education was free, and school supplies were inexpensive. This affordability helped foster a culture that valued education and lifelong learning.



In 1959, keeping in touch was simpler and cheaper. A local phone call cost just a few cents, and long-distance rates were reasonable. Letter writing remained a popular and inexpensive communication method, with postage for a first-class letter at 4 cents. Televisions and radios served as primary sources of news and entertainment, often shared by the entire family.

Travel and Transportation


Traveling by air was a luxury, but it was becoming more accessible. A cross-country flight cost around $150, which was steep but within reach for special occasions. Trains and buses provided affordable alternatives for long-distance travel. The expansion of the interstate highway system made road trips a popular choice.

Utility Costs

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The simplicity of utility services contributed to the overall affordability of living in 1959.

Monthly utility bills were manageable for most households. Electricity averaged around $4 monthly, while water and heating costs were similarly low. Many homes relied on coal or oil for heating, and the prices reflected the abundant supply. Television and radio were the major sources of entertainment, so utility expenses were minimal.

Childcare and Family Expenses

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Daycare services were rare, as many families had a stay-at-home parent. Parents enjoyed an occasional night out because babysitting costs approximately 50 cents per hour. Children’s clothes and toys were similarly priced, and many were passed down between siblings. Family activities were often low-cost or free, like picnics, community events, and outdoor play.

Tax Rates

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During this time, a middle-class family’s average federal income tax rate was about 20%. State and local taxes varied but were generally lower than today. Because Social Security was still in its infancy, so taxes comprised a lower portion of income. Families retained a larger part of their income, raising living standards.

Home Appliances

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Modern conveniences were becoming more common in households. A refrigerator averaged $400, while a washing machine cost about $200. These appliances were built to last, often serving families for many years. The rise of consumer credit made it easier to purchase big-ticket items. As a result, more homes were equipped with time-saving devices that enhanced daily life.

Personal Care and Grooming


Men’s haircuts often cost about $1.50, while women’s salon visits were slightly higher but still reasonable. Basic toiletries like soap, toothpaste, and shaving supplies were inexpensive.Because of the increased availability of beauty goods and cosmetics, people could maintain their looks within budget.

Sports and Recreation


Engaging in sports and recreational activities promoted a healthy lifestyle and offered opportunities for family bonding and community involvement. Public parks and recreation centers were free or low-cost options for physical activity. Membership at a local sports league or club was a few dollars a season. Activities such as fishing, hiking, and camping were popular pastimes that required minimal expense.


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