What things cost - then and now

  • Breaking
  • 18/04/2011

By Dan Satherley

The cost of living – it gets higher and higher every year, right? Well, it depends what you're spending your money on.

Yesterday, Statistics New Zealand announced inflation was running at 4.5 percent for the year to March, the second-highest it's been in two decades.

Which begs the question – is everything affected by inflation? Or are some goods actually cheaper than they were in the 'good old days'?

3 News has collected together historic price data on a range of items, working out what they would cost in today's money – and the results might surprise you.

We used the Reserve Bank's official inflation calculator, which can be found here, to calculate these figures. The original prices of goods come from a range of sources, including Statistics NZ, the Ministry of Health, as well as recollections from around the 3 News office and various websites. If you remember things costing otherwise, feel free to let us know by adding a comment below.


Much has been made of the price of milk these days. Campbell Live has been investigating just where the money goes, supermarkets have announced a price freeze and the Commerce Commission is even launching an investigation.

But is milk – which ranges between $3.50 and $5 for two litres, depending where you buy it – actually as expensive as it has ever been?

In 1975, milk wasn't sold in litres, but for our comparison, we'll assume it was. Two litres of the stuff would have put you back 13.2c, or $1.28 in today's money. Pretty cheap, huh?

By 1981, the price had jumped to 50c, or $1.90 in today's money – almost 50 percent more than what it was just six years earlier.

But in 1993 two litres set you back $2.42, or $3.80 in 2011 dollars, and in 1998, $4.24. Already we're in a range comparable to today's prices, and Fonterra – the target of much milk-related criticism in recent weeks – doesn't even exist yet.


Think that sweet LCD TV you saw at JB Hifi is a bit out of your price range? Spare a thought for your elders.

These days, $498 will get you a 26-inch LCD flat screen TV with a built-in DVD player. To buy the 1970s equivalent – a basic, no-frills CRT colour TV of the same width – would have cost you $1200. That doesn't sound too bad, till you convert that to 2011 dollars – a whopping $6,615. 

To put that in perspective, a person on the median wage in 2011 would have to do about a week of work to buy a decent TV, after tax. Someone in 1979 would have had to put in three months.

If televisions were similarly valued in the late '70s as they are now, they would have cost around $91.


Recorded music sales are plummeting and live gigs are enjoying a renaissance, and that's reflected in ticket prices. Going to the Big Day Out in 1994 cost about $60, or $90 in 2011 dollars. For that you got to see Bjork, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden and the Straitjacket Fits – excellent value for money.

In 2011, tickets were $150 to see Tool, MIA, Iggy Pop and LCD Soundsystem. Considerably more expensive, but whether that's value for money depends on your tastes.


The very first Rugby World Cup was held in New Zealand in 1987. In the opening match, the All Blacks thrashed Italy 70-6 at Eden Park. Witnessing that brilliant display from Buck, Fitzy, Kirwan and co in the flesh would have set you back $8, or $15.30 in 2011 dollars.That would probably struggle to get you a beer and a pie at Eden Park these days, let alone entry.

In this year's Rugby World Cup, also held in New Zealand, the first match – also at Eden Park – sees the All Blacks taking on Tonga.

Tickets for this game though, are nearly 10 times what they cost in 1987. The cheapest available from the official Rugby World Cup site are $123. If you benefited from the Government's recent tax cuts, perhaps you'd be able to afford the tickets in the good seats, which cost a wallet-melting $460.

It's debatable whether many of the 1987 All Blacks could even have afforded that, considering rugby was an amateur sport in those days.


The upward trend of petrol prices is now almost considered a law of nature, but for much of the 1980s and '90s, it wasn't necessarily the case. Let's start in 1981, following the oil shock fluctuations of the 1970s, when petrol cost about 59c a litre – or about $1.76 in today's money.

There were some ups and downs through the '80s, stabilising at about $1.10 by the early 1990s – or $1.50 in 2011 dollars. But by 1999, the price had barely budged.

But in the last decade, as we all know, things have got a lot worse. Petrol's now pushing $2.20, nearly 50 percent higher than a decade ago when adjusted for changes in the consumer price index.


Good old white bread has been a staple of Kiwi diets for decades. In 1969 a loaf would have set you back 12c, or $1.84 in today's money. Nowadays that'll get you a basic, no-frills loaf, which is probably all they had back then. So far so good.

But in 1993, it would have cost you the 2011 equivalent of $2.50, which these days could probably get you a decent quality loaf, or perhaps a fancy one if they're on special.

So it would seem as far as bread goes, we're not too badly off here in 2011.


Can't really say the same thing for cigarettes though. According to Ministry of Health figures, before the 1991 Budget tobacco tax increase, a pack of 20 cancer sticks cost about $4.50 – equivalent to about $7 today.

As smokers are well aware, a pack of 20 doesn't cost $7 these days. It's more like about $14.50, more than double.

Rather than a gradual rise through inflation though, most of the increased cost has come from successive tax hikes – for example, in 2000, cigarettes went from about $6.70 to $8, which is from $8.84 to $10.56 in today's money. As you can see, the cost of giving yourself cancer has risen a lot more than that over the last 10 years.


The 'Big Mac Index' has become a way to track purchasing power of different nations. It looks at how much a Big Mac costs compared to the local currency's standing against the US dollar.

The first year New Zealand was included in the informal study was 1995. Then, a Big Mac cost $2.95, or about $4.63 in today's money. It's not far off the current price of $5.20.

So although giving yourself cancer might be out of some people's reach, giving yourself a heart attack or diabetes is still quite affordable.


In 1982, a then-new Commodore 64, with a chip that ran at just under 1Mhz and had 64kb of Ram would have cost you $600. In 2011 dollars, that's $1874.

Today, that amount of money would get you a desktop PC running an Intel i7 chip, four cores running at 3.4Ghz each, 16GB of RAM, 4GB of graphics memory and the latest Windows operating system - in 64bit.

That's over 14,000 times the speed and over 260,000 times the RAM for the same price.

I'm not sure what a Commodore 64 would set you back these days – there aren't currently any for sale on TradeMe – but in 2000, this writer bought one, complete with a disk drive and a bag of software, for $30 – or about $40 in today's money, if that makes a difference.

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