(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

I know what things cost today: too damn much. And that got me thinking about what things cost in 2003, which is about 20 years ago.

 

This all started simply enough. My youngest wanted some Doritos. He loves Doritos. But I do the bulk of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s because I like their products and prices. And they don’t sell Doritos. So to procure some Doritos, I was going to have to make a run to my local big chain grocery store. It had been awhile since I bought Doritos, but still, I was gobsmacked when I saw the price.

 

The grocery store wanted $6.99. For a bag of Doritos.

 

Doritos are nacho cheese-flavored corn chips. They are mass-produced by a food corporation, not hand-crafted by a local snack food concern. You know all of this, I’m sure, but I’m saying it to drive home this simple point: A bag of Doritos does not cost $6.99. And the fact that we, as consumers, are being charged $6.99 for a bag of Doritos should make you as angry as it makes me.

 

What Things Cost in 2003: A Frustrating Look at Historic Prices

I don’t want to get too far sidetracked here before we jump into the wayback machine and set the dials to 2003, but this bears noting. The COVID-19 pandemic gave corporations an opportunity to jack up prices on consumer goods, and the Federal Reserve’s stance on inflation has kept them there. This Washington Post piece can give you more context, but again, it bears noting.

 

That’s where context comes in. I didn’t want to go all the way back to the 1950s, because of course a gallon of milk 70 years ago was dirt cheap. But 20 or so years ago? Those prices and that standard of comparison seem to make more sense. So let’s take a look and see what we were paying for Doritos and some other standard consumer items compared to what we’re paying today.

  • Doritos

    2023 price: $6.99. Sure, you can maybe get them cheaper if you price shop or luck into the sale, but we need a base price here.

    2003 price: $3.50, according to this calculator.

  • Milk

    2023 price: $2.80, according to this study.

    2003 price: $2.76, which was the average price that year. So factoring in inflation, you’re actually making out OK if you’re still drinking cows milk. I drink plant milk, so I’m losing out.

     

  • Average Car

    2023 Honda Accord: $27,295, according to Kelley Blue Book.

    2003 Honda Accord: $18,665, according to this great piece from the Morris County Library that lists prices of goods in 2003. I’ll be using it as a resource for the rest of these comparisons.

  • Gas Grill

    2023 CharBroil Gas Grill: $428 on Amazon

    2003 CharBroil Gas Grill: $249. This price hike over 20 years feels particularly steep. Has there been some groundbreaking gas grill technology that’s been discovered recently that I didn’t hear about?

  • Air Conditioner

    2023 5000 BTU window unit: $179 at Home Depot

    2003 5000 BTU window unit: $85. OK, maybe Energy Star ratings have improved over the last two decades. But I don’t feel like an in-window AC unit should more than double in price over that period.

  • Thanksgiving Dinner

    2022 average: $64.05, per the Courier-Journal.

    2003 average: $36.28, which would be $46.73 in today’s dollars. Still, turkey prices are said to be dropping in anticipation of the 2023 holiday, so at least the overall meal will be cheaper than it was last year. I guess.

  • Houses

    2023 median single-family home price in MA: $616,450

    2003 median single-family home price in MA: $180,200

    I have no words.

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