Born in the '70s? Then You Probably Wasted Your Money on These Items

Step back in time and explore the spending habits of Gen X's formative years.

vintage record stake on wooden table
Updated June 6, 2024
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From the rise of MTV to the fall of the Berlin Wall, people born in the 1970s have witnessed many cultural, political, and technological shifts in their lifetimes.

Gen-Xers grew up before smartphones, social media, and COVID-19. It was an iconic time for music, fashion, movies, and television.

If you were born in the ‘70s, here are 15 things you likely didn’t try too hard to avoid wasting money on in your teens and early adulthood.

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Big hair

xartproduction/Adobe female hairdresser using hairdryer on client

Between perms, hairspray, and teasing combs, you probably spent a pretty penny trying to achieve the glorious big hair of the '80s and early '90s.

Maintaining volume was a daily commitment and a constant fight against the laws of physics. But as Dolly Parton said, "The higher the hair, the closer to God."

Video games

Dontree/Adobe man holding nintendo switch mario game

Forget microtransactions — when you bought a game in the ‘80s and ‘90s, you owned the entire game!

If you’re a Gen-X gamer, you lived through a golden age for video games as they transitioned from arcades to home consoles.

From “Super Mario Bros,” “The Legend of Zelda,” and “Metroid” to “Street Fighter,” “Doom,” and “Sonic the Hedgehog,” there were too many amazing games during this era to count!

Pager

freeman83/Adobe hand holding pager on denim jeans

Pagers used radio frequencies to send and display messages between people. Before mobile phones took off, they were all the rage.

If you were born in the ‘70s, you likely bought a pager so that work, family, or friends could contact you instantly.

They were especially prevalent for on-call professionals, such as healthcare workers, police officers, and IT staff.

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Music

zephyr_p/Adobe hand tuning retro radio

People born in the ‘70s have seen a lot of different music genres and mediums in their lifetime. The ‘80s and ‘90s were a diverse and influential time for genres such as pop, heavy metal, hip-hop, R&B;, and more.

The technology for playing music has also changed a lot over the years. You have likely bought records, cassette tapes, CDs, and MP3 files at some point.

A car with crank windows

Michael/Adobe retro window crank of classic car

If you were born in the ‘70s, your car likely had a crank to roll down the window. In fact, manual windows actually are where the term "roll down the window" comes from.

Crank windows were durable and cost-efficient, and they would still work if your car battery died. Now that they’re phased out, we can just roll down the window with a push of a button.

Payphones

Neal/Adobe pay phone on rural street

When you were away from home and needed to make a call, you couldn't just whip out your iPhone; you'd have to find the nearest payphone.

Fortunately, you could find a payphone at nearly every public place, including malls, street corners, airports, and convenience stores.

You would have to pay for the call with coins or a prepaid calling card, which could be inconvenient to carry around everywhere.

CRT television

Supermelon/Adobe vintage analog television on orange backdrop

If you were born in the ‘70s, you probably bought a CRT television to watch the multitude of fantastic shows on TV during the ‘80s and ‘90s. CRT TVs had a thick glass screen and a large, bulky body.

Shows like “Knight Rider,” “The Golden Girls,” “Friends,” “90210,” “Saturday Night Live,” and many more were popular during these decades, along with children's programs like “Transformers” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Cigarettes

Kenishirotie/Adobe cigarettes stack on white blur background

Smoking cigarettes was much more common in previous decades than it is today. According to the American Lung Association, about one in three people smoked in 1980, and one in four people smoked in 1990.

People smoked pretty much anywhere, and you could find cigarette vending machines at gas stations, restaurants, and bars.

Luckily, awareness of the health risks associated with cigarettes has caused smoking rates to decline over the past few decades significantly.

A waterbed

hedgehog94/Adobe woman excited about fresh bed linen

If you got your first apartment sometime during the ‘80s, you may have invested in a waterbed.

Waterbeds boomed in the 1980s because people thought they would provide health benefits and liven up the bedroom (wink, wink).

However, they were heavy and required regular maintenance to prevent leaks. With more comfortable and practical mattress options on the market, the popularity of waterbeds began to decline during the ‘90s.

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Cheap concert tickets

william87/Adobe hippie group dancing in countryside

With concert tickets selling for hundreds of dollars each in 2023, it's no wonder Gen Xers remember ticket prices fondly.

In the mid-’80s, people typically paid between $10 and $20 to see big-name bands such as Aerosmith, AC/DC, Metallica, and Guns N' Roses.

You could see your favorite musicians perform live multiple times; now you're lucky if you can even afford to go once.

Fashion

Kalim/Adobe girl friends shopping for clothes

Vibrant colors and bold designs defined fashion in the ‘80s. If you're a Gen-Xer, you've probably spent quite a bit of money on clothing.

Popular clothing and accessories included acid-washed jeans, blazers with shoulder pads, chunky jewelry, and large statement belts.

The ‘90s also brought a diverse range of styles, including grunge, urban, and minimalism. Popular clothing included plaid, crop tops, floral dresses, bucket hats, and denim.

Landline phone

Ryan Thomas/Adobe cordless telephone placed on floor

In the '80s and '90s, landline phones were the primary means of communication. Mobile phones existed, but they were expensive and had limited functions.

It was common to spend hours on the phone with family and friends, having long conversations.

Today, people rely more on text messages, social media, and email. Phone conversations now tend to be shorter and more focused than in previous decades.

Movie rentals

MelissaMN/Adobe blockbuster store in bend oregon

People born in the ‘70s also experienced the era of movie store rentals, with Blockbuster being the most iconic.

These stores offered a vast selection of movies for rent on VHS and, later, DVD. Renting movies from the video store was a fun family activity, especially on the weekends.

Unfortunately, with the rise of streaming services and the shift away from physical media, many video rental stores have closed up shop.

Digital camera

Oleksandr/Adobe kid taking photo with professional camera

When you got tired of fumbling with a film camera, you may have transitioned to a digital camera sometime during the late 1990s or early 2000s.

The digital display allowed you to see how the picture turned out immediately, without waiting for the film to be developed.

Digital cameras evolved rapidly with improved image quality, sleeker designs, and even zoom capabilities!

Personal computer

Gorodenkoff/Adobe african american nurse using hospital computer

If you're a Gen Xer, you may have been among the first to buy a personal computer.

Although the first PCs were released in 1971, they became accessible to the average consumer in the 1980s but were not really affordable until the early 2000s.

Many early PC users bought them for work and school, primarily for their word-processing software, spreadsheet programs, and data management capabilities.

Bottom line

EpicStockMedia/Adobe couple driving corvette at sunset

People born in the 1970s grew up with some of the most iconic music, fashion, movies, and television, still beloved by today’s youngest generations.

Gen Xers were the masters of rolling with the tech punches. They effortlessly shifted with the times, tackling new hardware and software to help them get ahead financially in the workplace.

Their journey through the 80s, 90s, and 2000s was nothing short of a wild ride through history, blending nostalgia and tech-savviness into their generational story.

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Author Details

Carley Clark

Carley Clark is a personal finance writer from Michigan. She graduated from Spring Arbor University with a bachelor's degree in business. After graduation, she worked in finance as a revenue auditor at a casino. Carley strives to write informative content that will help readers meet their financial goals.