18 Normal Things From the ’80s and ’90s That Are Considered a Luxury Now

A girl eating popcorn and watching movie in cinema on weekend.

Reflecting on the '80s and '90s evokes nostalgia for what was once normal “everyday life” things. Growing up, my friends and I went to concerts for $15, and our favorite bands would even play in the smaller venues close to our hometown. 

These things and experiences were ordinary and budget-friendly 40 years ago but are considered luxurious treats or rare indulgences today. 

1. Sports Tickets

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Through the '80s and '90s, parents could easily afford game-day tickets for the entire family. 

These days, those who grew up watching sports live have been feeling the impact of rising ticket prices. Sports tickets have risen by the season. For example, NFL ticket prices increased 8.6% over the last year alone, as shown on the FanCostIndex

Tickets are just the first problem. The cost of food inside the stadiums and parking fees have risen as well.

2. Free Driver's Ed in High School

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Many U.S. high schools taught students free driver's education classes in the 1970s to mid-'90s. The free driver's ed programs stopped in the late 1990s, primarily due to budget cuts in the public school system. Since then, new learners and parents had no choice but to shoulder the cost of learning how to drive at private driving schools.

3. Durable Appliances and Household Equipment

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In the '80s and '90s, small appliances like toasters and blenders, cookware, fridges, ovens, vacuums, and other household equipment lasted a decade or more. 

Compare older appliances with newer ones. While technology has improved, the materials used back then are higher in quality. If they did break, it was common to have them repaired instead of buying brand-new ones. Globalization paved the way for cheap items to flood the market. Companies that value quality had to catch up price-wise, cutting costs in any way possible. 

4. Low-Cost College Education

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A four-year college tuition with room and board in 1980 was around $10,000 (price adjusted for inflation). By 2020, students paid around $29,000 for the same full-time education. From the '80s to 2020, the cost of college education rose by a staggering 180%.

5. Solid Wood Furniture

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Solid wood furniture is low maintenance and damage-resistant. These are just a few reasons '80s vintage IKEA furniture is in demand, even if IKEA produces good-looking, do-it-yourself furniture to this day. 

Companies in the past built dressers, dining tables, and other furniture that lasted for generations. The increase in wooden furniture prices isn't because of wood; many companies had to change industry practices to raise profits.

6. Company-Funded Retirement Packages 

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Employees working in the early '80s enjoyed pension plans with their job contracts. Having retirement packages built into jobs was the norm for many companies then — no negotiations needed. 

Today, you're lucky to find a good-paying job that gives you stability. Some employees, usually those working in unionized public and private sectors, still have defined benefit (DB) plans. With DB plans, companies pay for the entirety or a more significant chunk of the pension.

The rest of America's workforce has profit-sharing plans or 401(k), where employees contribute to their pensions, with the occasional employer matching their contributions. 

7. One-Time Purchase of Software and Products

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Companies launched many software products with a perpetual license in the '80s and '90s. Consumers get to own the software after paying for it once. An excellent example of this is Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office. 

Today, it is tough to find software that is not subscription-based. The upside to this model is that paying monthly or annually means the company supports software updates for as long as you pay your subscription.

Products like CDs or movie DVDs fit the subscription model perfectly. They were replaced by music streaming platforms and video-on-demand streaming services, respectively. However, other products are more of a stretch. Printer ink, for example, now comes with subscription models. 

8. Watching Musicians Perform Live in Concert

Paul and Linda Mccartney on stage during a performance.
Image Credit: Jim Summaria – CCA SA 3.0/WikiCommons.

From the '70s through the late '90s, bands, and music artists earned more from album sales. Concerts existed, but tickets would only cost about $15 or $37 in today's inflated dollars. With the rise of YouTube, Spotify, and other streaming platforms, bands had to rely on concert tickets as a major source of income.

Unfortunately, this meant music lovers must pay for high-priced concert tickets to see our favorite artists. Tickets to most popular artists today often start at $90 and can go as high as the highest bidder is willing to pay. 

9. Going to the Movies

A crowd of happy spectators are in the movie, sitting in the chairs laughing at the movie they are watching and enjoying popcorn and drinks.
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From the '80s to the late '90s, America's inflated-adjusted average movie ticket price went from $2.69 to $5.08. Family movie nights during this era were regular, even if you came from a single-income household.

The average movie ticket price now is $10.53. These days, going out to the cinema with your entire family in tow is costly and is reserved for special occasions. 

10. Flight Tickets With Leg Room, Meals, Luggage, and Seat Options

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In the 1980s, meals and unlimited checked bags were the norm. They come with every plane ticket, regardless of whether you fly domestically or internationally. You also can request a seat with ample legroom or window seats. Today, you must preorder meals and additional luggage with your tickets. You must also pay fees if you want specific seats.

11. Long-Lasting Clothes and Shoes

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Fast fashion, the mass production of stylish and cheap clothes, has been growing steadily, with SHEIN, Forever 21, Uniqlo, Urban Outfitters, and other similar brands leading the pack. 

Ironically, fast fashion began in the 1980s as American companies outsourced production to China. The industry has just grown more extensive in the last two decades. 

The problem with fast fashion is that the clothes and shoes aren't designed to last. When you compare clothes from the '80s and '90s, even the non-designer pieces are made from high-quality fabric. 

12. Reasonably-Priced Healthcare

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Healthcare costs continue to increase every year. Even with inflation-adjusted values, Americans spend six times as much on health care as they did in the 80s and 90s. Medical supplies and drugs are now more expensive, but insurance and healthcare services have spiked more dramatically.

13. Horses on Farms

Williamsburg, Virginia, USA: 31st March 2021; Woman riding on a horse and buggy in colonial Williamsburg
Image Credit: Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com.

Before there were cars, people used horses for daily transportation. In the 1980s, many parts of rural America still used horses leisurely and recreationally. Today, only the Amish and Mennonites use horses for farming and transportation. Due to their religious beliefs, they do not use cars, tractors, and other modern vehicles in their day-to-day lives.

14. Annual Festivals and Carnivals in Town

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In the ‘80s, friends and families gathered at carnivals and festivals yearly since everyone could afford passes. Most of the time, production companies set up these events near town, so even if you only had money for tickets, you can join in the fun.

Today, many small-town events like carnivals no longer exist. Those that survived have become too expensive for most people these days. Aside from the steep entry fee, you must also factor in transportation, food, rides per person, and activities. 

15. Tickets to Theme Parks

In front of Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World in Florida.
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Families today must save up months or years ahead for theme park visits. Tickets to theme parks are significantly more expensive today than 30 or 40 years ago. For example, one-day ticket prices to Disney World began at $7.50 in 1981 and rose to $44 by 1999. Today, a one-day ticket to the same Disney theme park ranges from $109 to $189 per person. 

16. Week-Long Vacations at National Parks

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Road trips and vacations to national parks like Yellowstone, Badlands, Yosemite, and others were common. In the 1980s to ‘90s, families could afford to spend a week or month of their summer vacation exploring the great outdoors. 

People also used to drive to their chosen national park with little planning. Today, you must make reservations to inns, campsites, boat rentals, and other vacation essentials weeks or months before your actual trip. 

Extended vacations have become a luxury since every little detail is now costly. Gas, RV or car rental, entry to the park, tour guides, and activities (whale watching, fishing, etc.) all cost money and add up quickly. As a result, families today plan day trips or weekend vacations instead. 

17. Affordable Food at the Farmers' Market

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In the 1980s, farmers' markets began popping up more frequently. The concept began to keep produce low-priced for customers, bypassing wholesalers and supermarkets. 

These days, goods at farmers' markets are priced as much (or sometimes higher) as grocery stores because of higher labor costs, organic farming techniques, and the need for special certifications. 

18. Wallet-Friendly State Fair Activities

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Image Credit: xrayspx, CC BY-SA 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons.

State fairs were a must-visit for families of all sizes due to cheap snacks and reasonably priced activities. Unfortunately, this is no longer true for the modern State Fair. 

Burgers, hot dogs, fries, ice cream, pizzas, tacos, and all other staple state fair foods are overpriced nowadays. Activities like pumpkin patches were previously sold as part of tickets but now are paid per piece. Prices usually increase during special holidays like the Fourth of July, too.

Author: Marjolein Dilven

Title: Writer


Marjolein is a writer and the founder of Radical FIRE. She has a finance and economics background with a master’s in Finance, with which she helps contribute to financial content here at Wealth of Geeks.