This guide points to primary sources showing retail prices for common items or "necessities of life." Prices for foods, medicine, articles of clothing, household items, fuels and common services fall within the domain of this guide. We've added price data for major purchases -- a house, a car, a college education. We always prefer pointing to price averages as reported in U.S. federal and state agency publications, but will point to evidence of retail prices from other primary sources (such as commercial catalogs) if government data is unavailable.
Price data is most meaningful when viewed in historical context. So, side-by-side with price data, you will find links to average wages, salaries, hours of work and earnings for workers in the same decades. To compare the buying power of U.S. dollars in different years, we recommend the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index (CPI) Inflation Calculator.
Thanks to University of Missouri Library Government Documents Department student assistants, Catherine Hutinett, David Steinmeyer, Amanda Krewson, Kamilah Jones, Scott Peterson, Carrie Carter, and Guinevere Lawson, as well as to Pamela Campbell of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis' FRASER digital library, all of whom provided assistance in the enhancement of this resource.