Nothing makes us quite so nostalgic as thinking about how much things cost back in the good old days. So let’s take a trip down memory lane and consider the cost of something you might use every day: milk.
To do that, we’ve looked to the National Agricultural Statistical Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It has figures for the national average price per hundredweight of milk for the years 1960-2016. We broke it down to a per gallon price (by assuming 11.63 gallons of milk per hundredweight, and then rounding to the nearest cent.)
Now, these numbers represent how much farmers got paid for their milk, not how much you would pay in the store. The average retail price for a gallon of fresh whole milk is available from the University of Wisconsin-Madison starting with the year 1995. So if you’re 22 or younger, you’ll see those prices for your birth year as well.
So let’s see: How much did milk cost the year you were born?
1960: 36 cents per gallon
Milk was cheap – oh, so cheap! In 1960, farmers got paid 36 cents per gallon for the white stuff and you might have paid just a little bit more in the store.
1961: 36 cents
Prices would remain relatively stable through much of the ‘60s, and the commodity cost of milk in 1961 was also 36 cents per gallon. (And yes, kiddos, a milkman used to drop off bottles at your door.)
1962: 35 cents
Shoppers might have saved a few cents in 1962 when the commodity cost of milk fell to 35 cents per gallon.
1963: 36 cents
The price paid to dairy farmers stayed the same in 1963 at 36 cents per gallon.
1964: 36 cents
The price of 36 cents per gallon of milk held steady into 1964 as well.
1965: 37 cents
By 1965, the cost of milk would start a slow and steady climb across the coming decade. At 37 cents per gallon, this year would mark the last time farmers would ever see the cost of milk below 40 cents.
1966: 42 cents
In 1966, farmers were making more than 40 cents per gallon for the very first time. The cost of milk was 42 cents per gallon that year.
1967: 43 cents
With military action in Vietnam ramping up, the late ‘60s were marked by a period of unrest and uncertainty. But you wouldn’t know that from the price of milk, which remained relatively steady at 43 cents per gallon in 1967.
1968: 45 cents
The price of the dairy product inched up to 45 cents per gallon in 1968.
1969: 47 cents
To close out the decade, farmers could expect to get 47 cents for each gallon of milky goodness they could get from their cows.
1970: 49 cents
It was a new decade and a new year, one in which farmers were paid 49 cents per gallon of milk.
1971: 50 cents
In ten years time, the price per gallon of milk had risen 14 cents. It broke the 50-cent barrier in 1971.
1972: 52 cents
In 1972, the cost of milk was only 52 cents a gallon. People might not have realized it at the time, but this would mark the end of a period of relative stable milk prices and beginning of rapid increases.
1973: 62 cents
If you were born in 1973, your parents may have found themselves budgeting a bit extra for their milk. Prices jumped 10 cents from the previous year for a commodity cost of 62 cents per gallon. An article in the Aug. 7, 1973, edition of the Chicago Tribune noted the average retail cost of a gallon was $1.20. A milk industry spokesperson was quoted as saying: “This is not the last such increase you’ll hear of this year.” So true.
1974: 72 cents
That industry spokesperson was right: The commodity price jumped another 10 cents to 72 cents per gallon in 1973. The price spikes have been attributed to rising cattle feed costs and other expenses. However, that didn’t stop President Richard Nixon from washing down his final meal in the White House, above, with a glass of milk.
1975: 75 cents
In 1975, the commodity cost of milk leveled off to 75 cents per gallon.
1976: 83 cents
However, in 1976, prices for dairy farmers were on the move again to 83 cents per gallon.
1977: 83 cents
The commodity cost of milk stayed at 83 cents per gallon in 1977.
1978: 91 cents
The Food and Agricultural Act of 1977 may have helped push the commodity price of milk to 91 cents per gallon in 1978. Retail prices ranged from $1.29 to $1.62 per gallon in the Chicago area, according to a Chicago Tribune article at the time.
There was another increase in the cost of milk in 1979. It took the cost per gallon past $1.00 for the first time to an average commodity price of $1.03.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president, the country was headed for a recession, and there was a hostage crisis in Iran. There also was a surplus of milk, and yet the commodity price still rose to $1.12. Average retail prices in Chicago were $1.65 a gallon according to news reports at the time.
In the biggest jump seen in a single year, the cost of milk rose 71 cents from 1980 to 1981. A gallon of milk, at the commodity price, was $1.83.
Then, just as quickly as it jumped, the price plummeted to $1.17 per gallon in 1982.
If you were born in 1983, your parents may have celebrated with milk. The cost had finally stabilized and remained at $1.17 per gallon that year.
In 1984, the economy recovered, Reagan was re-elected, and the commodity cost of milk dropped a penny to $1.16 per gallon.
Things started looking good for milk drinkers in 1985. It was the first of several years of declining milk prices, which were $1.09 in that year.
Dairy farmers saw the cost of milk drop another cent to $1.08 per gallon in 1986.
In 1987, farmers were paid an average of $1.07 for a gallon of milk.
The price kept dropping throughout the mid- to late 1980s. By 1988, a gallon cost an average of $1.05.
However, all good things must come to an end. The cost of a gallon of milk jumped to $1.17 as we closed out the decade.
It was a new decade but the same old milk prices – just about. The cost of a gallon rose a cent to $1.18 in 1990.
A weak economy in 1991 led to lower prices for producers, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis. The commodity price of a gallon of milk dropped to $1.05.
In 1992, the cost of milk rebounded back to $1.13 per gallon.
If you were born in 1993, consider yourself special. It’s the one year missing from the milk commodity prices tracked by the National Agricultural Statistical Service. However, the Federal Milk Order price for that year was $1.11.
Milk prices in 1994 were in line with the previous two years. The commodity price was $1.12 per gallon.
1995: $1.10 commodity price, $2.52 retail price
In 1995, people were just getting used to this thing called the internet, and it also marked the first year we have data about retail milk prices. In that year, farmers got paid $1.10 per gallon, but your parents were likely paying $2.52 per gallon in the store.
1996: $1.27 commodity price, $2.73 retail price
The dot-com bubble was building in 1996, and so were milk prices. They averaged $1.27 per gallon on the commodity market and $2.73 per gallon in the supermarket.
1997: $1.15 commodity price, $2.67 retail price
Then the bubble burst – the dot-com bubble, that is – and milk prices dropped too. In 1997, commodity prices dipped to $1.15 while the retail cost was $2.67 per gallon.
1998: $1.33 commodity price, $2.86 retail price
Milk prices ping-ponged into the late 1990s, climbing to $2.86 per gallon at the grocery store in 1998. The commodity price was up to $1.33 per gallon.
1999: $1.24 commodity price, $2.88 retail price
Then, in 1999, the commodity price dropped to $1.24 per gallon. Unfortunately, retail prices didn’t follow suit and actually increased slightly to $2.88 per gallon.
2000: $1.06 commodity price, $2.79 retail price
On Jan. 1, 2000, we were all relieved that the computers kept working and that the end of the world was delayed to another day. To celebrate, we could all have a bargain-priced glass of milk. The average commodity price of milk in 2000 dropped to $1.06 per gallon, and the average retail price was $2.79.
2001: $1.28 commodity price, $2.90 retail price
The implementation in 2001 of a new pricing system, passed in a 1996 farm bill, was reportedly one reason milk prices increased to $1.28 for farmers and $2.90 in stores.
2002: $1.04 commodity price, $2.68 retail price
With 2002 came another drop in prices, down to an average retail price of $2.68 per gallon. The commodity price was $1.04 per gallon that year, falling to a level that dairy farmers hadn’t seen since the late 1970s.
2003: $1.08 commodity price, $2.95 retail price
While the commodity price paid to farmers only increased 4 cents in 2003 to $1.08 per gallon, shoppers were paying 27 cents more and an average of $2.95 per gallon at the store.
2004: $1.38 commodity price, $3.23 retail price
Average retail milk prices broke $3.00 per gallon for the first time in 2004. Consumers were paying $3.23 in stores while farmers were getting a mere $1.38 per gallon.
2005: $1.30 commodity price, $3.24 retail price
In 2005, the commodity price of milk dropped to $1.30 per gallon, but the average retail price increased to $3.24 per gallon.
2006: $1.11 commodity price, $3.00 retail price
Babies born in 2006 might have been drinking milk that cost $3.00 a gallon on the store shelf. Meanwhile, farmers were making $1.11 per gallon that year.
2007: $1.64 commodity price, $3.87 retail price
Thanks to a 2006 drought and rising livestock costs, the average commodity price for milk in 2007 shot up to $1.64. That translated to a big jump in the price for consumers, who paid an average retail price of $3.87 per gallon, making 2007 the peak year for retail milk prices in the United States (so far).
2008: $1.56 commodity price, $3.68 retail price
In 2008, we were heading into what would soon be known as the Great Recession. Milk was still expensive, but the price dropped to $1.56 per gallon on the commodity market and $3.68 in grocery stores.
2009: $1.10 commodity price, $3.11 retail price
By 2009, the bottom had fallen out of the economy, and it did for milk prices too. The commodity price plummeted to $1.10 while the average retail price went down to $3.11 per gallon.
2010: $1.40 commodity price, $3.32 retail price
By 2010, the price of milk was moving upward again. The commodity price averaged $1.40 a gallon while the retail price was $3.32.
2011: $1.73 commodity price, $3.57 retail price
In 2011, the average retail price of milk hit $3.57 per gallon, while farmers were getting only about half that amount at $1.73 per gallon.
2012: $1.60 commodity price, $3.58 retail price
Farmers got less in 2012 — with the commodity price falling to $1.60 per gallon – but the retail price increased a penny to $3.58.
2013: $1.72 commodity price, $3.50 retail price
DairyReporter.com says 2013 was a good year for milk as commodity prices increased to $1.72 per gallon but the retail price dropped to $3.50.
2014: $2.06 commodity price, $3.82 retail price
In 2014, the commodity price of milk hit $2.06 per gallon, the only time dairy farmers saw it rise above the $2.00 mark. The retail price averaged $3.82, just below the high prices seen in 2007.
2015: $1.47 commodity price, $3.31 retail price
Milk production rose in 2015, which meant prices fell. The average commodity price was $1.47 per gallon while the retail price dropped to $3.31.
2016: $1.40 commodity price, $3.28 retail price
Just think: 60 years from now, babies born last year can talk about how milk only cost $3.28 in the stores in the year they were born. And their grandkids might just think that sounds like a steal.
Is milk a big part of your grocery bill? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.