Household expenses: comparing today to the 90’s

Bills, bills bills! How do household expenses compare today vs. the 90’s?

When you were just a kid, can you remember the bills your parents had to budget for?

As Millennials, you can’t deny looking back and comparing life in the 90’s to today.

Surely you thought about it when you started paying for your own household expenses!

If I had to name the first thing that comes to mind regarding household bills from the 90s, I’d think “envelope system“.

I specifically remember each envelope my parents carefully handled once a month.

I also remember the writing in pencil on each: electricity, phone bill, vacation (best envelope ever!) and others.

Fast forward to today, so much has changed!

Certain household expenses clearly make a difference in our budget today, compared to two decades ago.

Although many reminisce the lower cost of living back then, I believe there are plenty of positive aspects to be thankful for today.

Household expenses
today vs. the 90’s

Household expenses today vs. the 90's: a fair comparison between the cost of living today and two decades ago. Did our parents really have it better?


Home internet service

Back in the old days, I doubt anyone even dreamed high speed internet was even a possibility. Fiber-optic communication wasn’t even ‘a thing’ back then.

Today, home high speed internet became a necessity, rather than luxury. Especially if you have an online business!

Back in the 90’s, whoever had dial-up internet access was “cool” (and often envied).

The downside was, internet was slooow and very expensive, since you paid by the minute.

Today – good news! – internet service is much cheaper by comparison, and unlimited!

Cell phone bill

I bought my first cell phone when I was a teenager. Today, kindergarten kids probably know more about their smartphone than I do!

I remember I couldn’t afford to pay a monthly bill, so I just recharged my phone when I had the cash. A cell phone plan back then was crazy expensive and my family couldn’t afford one.

A cell phone bill in the 90’s used to be a luxury. You had to pay by the minute, each text message would be charged separately and if you wanted to get online – yikes! Would have left you broke!

Today, we have cell phone plans with unlimited calls, wireless to access free internet and the possibility to be online whenever we need to thanks to mobile data.

Cable TV & streaming services

Growing up, I remember we only had basic cable and had to pay a small fortune to have a satellite antenna installed so we could access other broadcasting networks not available in our area.

Today, we have many cable TV options to choose from or even streaming services, like Netflix and the likes.

Technology has evolved and, even though cable TV is a lot more expensive now, it’s not mandatory. Streaming services are cheaper, but they as well aren’t mandatory.

Back then, paying for TV entertainment was kind of expensive. It’s still expensive today, but at least now we have access to more than a couple services to choose from. And with competition between services being fierce, there are plenty ways to pay less for small screen entertainment!

Food & groceries

One of the biggest household expenses was and still is, feeding the family.

Back in the 90’s, there weren’t many food joints and restaurants available. Sure, I’d occasionally beg my parents to splurge on a happy meal, but the rest of the month I would have my mom’s home cooked meals!

There wasn’t much choice back then, cooking at home was ‘the norm’ and eating out was a rare luxury.

Nowadays, eating out can put a serious dent into anyone’s budget. With so many options available, we’re often tempted to skip cooking at home and just go out or order takeout. And food can get expensive real quick!

The good news is, grocery stores are still here to stay! And today we even have more options when grocery shopping, while also finding ways to save.

I distinctly remember there wasn’t as much variety in a store back then as there is now. I had no idea what broccoli was or how avocados tasted until I was in my 20’s!

Shopping sprees

I can honestly say I’ve never heard of ‘shopping sprees’ until I grew up.

Shopping for fun ‘just because’ wasn’t a thing 20 years ago. Now, even people living paycheck to paycheck occasionally splurge on clothes, gadgets and other ‘stuff’.

One particular envelope my folks rarely touched was the one labeled ‘Miscellaneous’. We didn’t have malls to spend hours window shopping or special sales that lasted for months.

Today, the miscellaneous bill is, undoubtedly, much higher!

We seem to care less about what we need and spend more on wants.

However, not everyone’s like that. Plenty of people embraced minimalism and are living frugally every day! In a way, it’s good that we have so much ‘stuff’ available!

If you’re careful about your finances, you can shop around and save money on items you need. As opposed to back in the day when abundance wasn’t an option.

Various services

Did you ever help your parents wash the family car? I did! And all we needed was a sponge and a bucket of water.

My babysitter was also my neighbor. Who later on became my best friend.

My mom would wash clothes on weekends and dried them on the balcony. Today we have at least one dry cleaner service in each neighborhood.

Twenty years ago, we didn’t use to pay for certain services (well, maybe babysitting wasn’t the best example, but who does this for free nowadays?).

Today, we spend more and more on paid services, although we could probably do most of the work ourselves.

The good news is, we’re now able to free up a lot of time!

Many prefer paying for someone to iron their shirts while they spend quality time with the children.

Back in the day, my mom would spend hours ironing clothes! In addition to cooking for the whole family and cleaning. By the time she was done with everything, she was way too tired to play with self-mini-me!

Gadgets & new technology

Most households today own at least one smartphone per member of the family, a laptop or PC (or both), tablets, iPods and the likes.

Back in the old days, we didn’t have such gadgets available. Having a computer at home in the 90’s was already considered a luxury.

From a spending point of view, families used to spend a lot less on technology & gadgets compared to today.

And between you and me, if you bought a piece of electronic equipment, it probably lasted for years on end, unlike electronics nowadays.

However, even though most electronics today are merely wants and rarely needs, it’s still nice to know how technology has evolved.

An old laptop breaks down, you run to the store and have 100 different models to choose from. If your computer broke down 20 years ago, good luck buying a new one off the shelves!

Credit card bills & debt

If there’s one thing our parents worried less about, it was debt.

Loans were available a couple decades ago, of course, but I distinctly remember my parents and same age relatives were more into saving, rather than borrowing.

Instead of putting a big purchase on a credit card, people were used to saving money until they could afford buying the things they need.

Our first washing machine was bought after months of saving and sacrificing. Getting into debt or putting it on a credit card wasn’t even up for discussion!

Today, it seems everything we want is given to us on a golden platter. But when we have to pay for our purchases, that’s when the headaches start to act up.

However!  Although debt is a serious issue today, if you know how to handle your credit cards and control your spending urges, you can actually benefit from some amazing rewards!

Credit cards offer great perks if you’re able to use them wisely. Sure, having a high credit limit can be dangerous, but being smart when handling money can be rewarding down the line.

Summing up, although life in the 90’s was probably much simpler than today (from a financial point of view at least), it’s safe to say change also came with certain perks.

If we know how to take advantage of innovation and new developments, we can certainly live well without spending a whole lot more than our parents did.

What other household expenses were so much different then, compared to today?



I'm Adriana, a passionate SEO expert with a knack for budgeting. As an SEO whiz, I help businesses reach their goals. In my personal life, I care about empowering myself and others to make the most of every cent.


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