14 Things We Could All Afford 20 Years Ago (But Only the Rich Can Now)

Even some necessities are now out of reach for the middle class.
Updated May 8, 2024
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We've now settled into inflation's new normal prices. However, many of us haven't adjusted to the change in lifestyle, which has made it harder to get ahead financially. What used to be affordable to middle-class Americans has changed significantly in the past 20 years.

Unfortunately, not only luxury or big-ticket items have become prohibitively expensive. Check out a few of these purchases that were once within the average person's budget but are no longer.

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Bussakon/Adobe happy homeowners

The median price of a home in 2024 is now a whopping $417,700. By contrast, the median price in 2000 was $165,300, which should be $305,856 in today’s dollars. 

Factor in stagnant wages, and housing has become increasingly less affordable in today’s economic environment.

New cars

Minerva Studio/Adobe woman receiving new car keys

According to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the average price of new vehicles was just over $20,000 in 2000. Today, it's more than double: just over $48,000.

Pro tip: Shop around every year to help save money on auto insurance and offset higher vehicle prices.

College education

Prostock-studio/Adobe graduates throwing graduation caps in the air

The cost of tuition has skyrocketed in recent years. Tuition at four-year, in-state universities went from $5,270 in 2000 to $10,440 in 2020, according to the Manhattan Institute. The College Board notes that it jumped to $10,940 for 2022.

While there are many scholarships and grant programs to help students with lower incomes, the full-ticket price of tuition (especially at private institutions) is reserved for the rich.

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Health care

Halfpoint/Adobe doctor explaining a senior woman how to take pills

Health care spending in 2000 was an average of $2,066 per household, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

Even after all the legislation designed to protect health care consumers from untenable costs, health care expenditures rose to $5,850 in 2022. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $3,562 in 2000 dollars but still represents a huge increase.

Dental work

luckybusiness/Adobe young female dentist drilling tooth to patient

BLS data for the rise in dental care prices only goes back to 2010, but what was a $100 dental visit then should cost $145 now. 

According to a survey by DentalInsurance.com, cost is the # 1 reason Americans put off dental care. On average, a routine cleaning can cost as much as $200 today.

Concert tickets

Melinda Nagy/Adobe crowd at concert

One reason for the uptick in ticket prices is that venues have to charge enough to turn a profit, so promoters charge extra fees — up to 37% more than the ticket’s actual price, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Prices for concerts are also set by more popular artists, but smaller performers have to match the level of pricing to pay the venues.


coreyfrey/Adobe gas pump

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the national average gas price in January 2000 was only $1.289 — across all grades of gas! The jump to the current average of $3.591 is staggering.

Movie tickets

Drobot Dean/Adobe young couple sitting in rows while holding cold drinks watching movie in cinema

In 2000, a movie ticket cost just $5.39. Today, you’ll pay about double that, with the average ticket setting you back $10.78. And that doesn’t include the outrageously priced popcorn.

Amusement parks

MinttuFin/Adobe Ride Swing Carousel in motion in amusement park

Tickets to Disneyland have quadrupled since 2000, and annual passes have increased by 700% for the same period. In 2000, the price of a ticket was $43. Now, you’ll pay an average of $194 for a day with The Mouse. 

Six Flags hasn’t risen quite so much. In 2000, it cost $39 for adults; today, prices start at $79.

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Joshua Resnick/Adobe two cups of cola soft drink

The early 2000s were a good time for soda lovers, with a two-liter bottle costing about $0.99. These days, the same bottle costs around $2.28. 

Prices are even higher when you order soft drinks in restaurants, and you probably aren’t drinking two liters, even if you get refills.


Philipp Berezhnoy/Adobe nike air jordan

If you’ve been wondering if sneakers have gotten more expensive lately, you’re not imagining things. 

While the Consumer Price Index for clothing has remained unchanged since 2000 (moving from 129.6 to 130.6), shoes have been the outlier, increasing from 123.8 to 144.85. Men’s footwear alone increased 4.6% in the last year.


caftor/Adobe stack of books lying on table

For those who love the smell of new pages and the feel of a real book in their hands, that luxury was more affordable in yesteryear. 

Mass-market paperbacks cost around $5.78 in 2000, but they cost between $13.95 and $17.95 now. It’s a good thing the ones at the library are still free.

Ski passes

Wlad Go/Adobe girl on the ski

Skiing has never been a sport for the poor, but you have to be increasingly rich to afford a lift ticket. Some of the top ski resorts in the country (Beaver Creek, Vail, and Park City) charge around $250 for a single-day lift ticket. 

By contrast, an ad for Beaver Creek in the 2000 edition of Ski Magazine offered a 10-day pass for $299.


bernardbodo/Adobe children getting creative

Child care is now an unaffordable necessity for many families. Since 1990, The First Five Years Fund notes that the average cost of child care has risen 214%, while wages have only increased 143% during the same period.

With the cost of daycare outpacing inflation and wage growth, full-time daycare has become something only those with high incomes or who make extra money can afford.

Bottom line

StockPhotoPro/Adobe stressed woman reviewing bills at home

If you’re lamenting the cut your lifestyle has taken, you’re not alone. Consumers worldwide are looking for ways to save money shopping, cutting their levels of discretionary spending, purchasing more second-hand goods, and even curbing holiday expenses.

Luckily, real wage growth shows signs of rising, and inflation shows signs of ebbing. Hopefully, this combination will make a few items on this list affordable once again.

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Author Details

Jenni Sisson Jenni Sisson is a freelance writer and editor who focuses on personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship. She has been published in Business Insider and The Ways to Wealth. In addition to writing, Jenni hosts the Mama's Money Map podcast to help fellow stay-at-home moms on their journey to financial freedom.

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