With prices on just about everything going way up recently, it’s easy to think back on what we used to pay for things and have a pang of nostalgia for a time when it didn’t cost quite so much money just to get by. Well, these clips from a Safeway grocery store in 1980 show us not only what shopping was like back then, but they also give us an idea of what people were paying for grocery items at the top of the decade.

Safeway vintage sign
Via: Wiki Commons

You’ll notice that many things are the same as today. Central freezer bins line the middle aisles, (albeit clad in faux wood panels!) and canned goods and condiments are situated between the cash registers and the rest of the store.

The grocery carts look a similar size to today’s, perhaps just a bit smaller. You see women pushing their carts in high heels, not a thing you’d find at many groceries today.

But, the thing that surprised me was the pace of everything. The shoppers in these clips are really booking it through the busy store, swerving their carts to avoid oncoming customers. It’s funny, I often think of the past as being slower paced. But, perhaps the desire to quickly get the shopping done overrides time and place!

Via: Warren K. Leffler/Library of Congress

Now for the prices. You can’t see a lot of the signs too well, but you can see a receipt being printed which indicates store #1200, likely located in Colorado. While we can’t read everything on the receipt, the things we can read are a lot cheaper than today’s pricing. Here’s a breakdown of some of the items and what they cost:

    Tropicana orange juice $0.53
    Ritz Crackers $1.09
    Deodorant soap $0.43
    Pinto beans $0.63
    Large eggs $0.74
    Beef hotdogs $1.79
    Goldfish crackers $0.79
    Pepperidge Farms chocolate brownie cookies $0.89
    Tampons $1.99
    Ajax cleanser $0.64
    Deodorant $1.99
    Hot dog buns $0.50

These are just some of the items from a single receipt, since not all of the purchases were legible. But, taking this partial list combined the total for the above items was $12.01.

By comparison those same types of items from a Denver Safeway store today have a cost breakdown as follows:

    Tropicana orange juice $4.00
    Ritz crackers $3.79
    Dial deodorant soap multi-pack breaks down to $0.85 per bar (but original 1980 price could have been for an entire multi-pack)
    Pinto Beans $1.29
    Large eggs $3.99
    Beef hotdogs $4.99
    Goldfish crackers $2.99
    Pepperidge Farms chocolate cookies $4.99
    Tampons $10.99
    Ajax cleanser (Comet powder) $2.29
    Deodorant $3-$7
    Hot dog buns $3.79
Via: Werner Weiss/Orange County Archives

This brings today’s cost for the same item to $50.96. Adjusting for inflation that $12.01 total for the items listed would be $46.18 in today’s money. So, if we compare that to the 2020s price of $50.96 it’s not that much of a difference. But, there are some caveats with this comparison.

The 1980 receipt does not give sizes, ounces, or indicate if any of the items were multi-packs. So, it’s quite possible that the 1980 shopper got quite a bit more for their similar grocery bill. It’s no secret that many companies today are decreasing their sizes instead of raising their costs. It saves them money, and it prevents sticker shock in the store aisles. But, ultimately it also means we’re getting less for our money than before.

Check out grocery shopping in 1980 in the video below.

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