June 14, 2024
Boomers Love Saying 'Back in My Day, It Was Cheaper.' But Was It?


Younger generations will never understand the struggle of having a house full of people but only one landline phone. 

It’s nice to have access to evolving technology that older generations didn’t experience growing up. Baby boomers missed out on the ease of the digital age. But they also didn’t have to deal with the high cost of shiny new tech, like smartphones.

Is Gen Z paying more than our parents did for modern-day conveniences? In some cases, yes, but in other cases, no. 

Take cable TV, which older generations still relish for reliability and ease (or sentimental attachment). Basic cable TV and internet costs an average of $144 a month, according to CNET’s expert We Do the Math series. My personal roundup of streaming service subscriptions doesn’t come close to that price — until you factor in the cost of the internet. 

Do we spend or save more than our parents?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard an older family member say, “In my day, this cost a quarter.”

Inflation, the rising cost of goods and services, chips away at our purchasing power. It makes things more expensive, cutting into our budget. 

We’re certainly paying more for things than our parents did, but is technology part of the problem? Or is improved technology actually helping us save money, while also offering us more convenience and variety?

After recently writing about my parents’ financial tips, I was inspired to dig deeper and compare the costs of my monthly expenses to those of the baby boomer generation. Let’s see who spends more on the basics.

Read more: Guess What? My Boomer Parents Were Right About Money

Cable TV vs. streaming services

💵 Who saves more? Gen Z (but it depends on streaming preferences)

With the explosion of digital media and streaming, more people are cutting the cord from traditional cable TV and satellite services. Less than half of Americans still use cable, while more than 80% of US households have at least one streaming service, according to a 2023 report from Leichtman Research Group. 

Cable TV is pricey, but if we’re paying for multiple streaming subscriptions each month, is streaming really that much cheaper?

I pay about $90 a month for Hulu, Netflix and YouTube TV, which gives me access to live TV. I can’t use those streaming subscriptions without Wi-Fi, so let’s add another $55 to my monthly at-home entertainment bill. If I paid for basic cable TV and internet combined, it would cost me about the same.

According to CNET’s research, if you want the cable TV experience without the fees and contracts, then live TV streaming is the next best thing. But if you want to save money, get the least expensive internet plan and skip the live TV or premium plans. To save even more, you can opt for the free channels and apps that come with your streaming device, as long as you’re willing to tolerate commercials and limited viewing.

Read more: Streaming vs. Cable: Which One Saves You More Money?

💵 Who saves more? Gen Z


pattilabelle/Getty Images

The total estimated circulation of print newspapers has been in decline since the mid-2000s, according to the Pew Research Center. Not surprisingly, Americans aged 65 and older are more likely than younger adults to turn to hard-copy publications. 

In 1990, the New York Times paper delivery cost about $5 a week. Today, you’ll pay three or four times that amount, depending on your ZIP code. 

Online news sites also come with a price. According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, more than two-thirds of leading newspapers in the US operate behind some kind of internet paywall, which helps them generate more revenue through subscriptions. (CNET continues to provide full digital access without a paid subscription.)

If you have a lineup of digital media subscriptions, that definitely adds up. But generally speaking, online access to newspapers and magazines is cheaper than home delivery today. My local newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, for example, charges $35 a month for daily print delivery, but it’s only $20 a month for digital access. 

Landline phones vs. cell phones 

💵 Who saves more? Boomers (but Gen Z gets more bang for the buck)

Home landline phones are ancient history to those of us who grew up in the smartphone era. My family’s landline was retired at least 15 years ago.

While the number of people who still use landlines has significantly declined, half of people aged 65 and older still depend on an old-school telephone, according to the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society. 

The average monthly cost for wireless cell phone customers is about $141 (ouch), compared to between $20 and $50 a month for a traditional landline. You also have to pay every few years for a new smartphone, which isn’t cheap. The most affordable phones on the market today range from $160 to $500. 

While having a regular telephone with a phone jack has benefits (it relies on copper-line infrastructure in case of an outage), landlines are being phased out or increasingly dependent on internet connections. 

With a smartphone, you’re paying a lot more for the convenience of carrying around a palm-size computer, with easy access to the internet, email, a camera, a music library, books and games, all in one place.

Read more: Best Cheap Phone of 2024

Home security systems vs. smart homes

💵 Who saves more? Gen Z (and we have more options) 

My mom was obsessed with shows like Dateline and 20/20 long before my generation started riding the true crime wave through viral podcasts like Serial. When I was a kid, we always had a home security system. I remember feeling sheer panic whenever my brother would open a window in the middle of the night and trigger the alarm.  

Nowadays, every neighborhood has video doorbell cameras like Ring and Google Nest. I have a Ring on my door, and the basic protection plan costs me just $5.40 monthly. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the ancient Smith Thompson home security system my family had starting in the late 1990s. Today, the installation of a new home security system from Smith Thompson will cost you about $399, plus a $16.95 monthly monitoring rate. 

Advanced technology has not only given us more options for home security systems — it’s also allowed us to cut costs on professional installation fees since the most affordable ones are DIY. 

Read more: Best Home Security Systems of 2024

Video rentals vs. streaming apps

💵 Who saves more? Probably boomers (but no one wants to repair a VHS or DVD player)

Old videocassette player with old videotapes on a wooden cabinet

Henri Leduc/Getty Images

Trips to Blockbuster were a novelty growing up. I’m pretty sure my dad was still renting DVDs until Blockbuster closed all of its doors in 2014, except for one remaining store in Bend, Oregon. 

Before the days of streaming, video rentals were the way to spend Friday night at home in your pajamas. In 2011, it cost $3 to rent new releases on the first day and $2 for older films. But late fees were everyone’s worst nightmare: You’d be charged $1 for each day a movie rental was late. If you had a picky sibling who refused to compromise or a tendency to rent more than one movie, you could work up quite the bill. 

If you want to watch a movie that’s not available to stream for free with a subscription nowadays, you might end up spending as much as you would to see it in theaters. Rental prices for new releases on Amazon Prime range from $3 to $20. Once you press play, you have a minimum of 48 hours to watch it, so you might need to pay for it again if you don’t finish. 

Postage vs. online mail and shipping

💵 Who saves more? Gen Z

Do you remember the last time you physically went to the post office and bought postage to mail a bill, letter or application? Me neither. As a Gen Zer, I think it’s safe to say I’ve never had to mail anything other than the occasional Amazon return (and I don’t even have to pay for the actual postage in that case). 

Once upon a time pre-internet and electronic banking, folks had to send correspondence via snail mail. In the late ’70s, a stamp cost about 15 cents. Today, a stamp costs 68 cents. Not only that, but companies are increasingly charging more if you opt for a paper bill or making electronic billing a requirement. 

Boomers also relied on the postal service to send care packages and gift items. With online shopping, it’s easier and cheaper for us to buy items online and have them sent to the recipient. Plus, free shipping has become more of a norm than an exception, with nearly 50% of retailers offering no-cost shipping beyond a certain payment threshold. 

Cassettes and CDs vs. digital music streaming

💵 Who saves more? Gen Z (and we have a hundred million songs at our fingertips)

audio compact Mini Hi-Fi Stereo System

Henri Leduc/Getty Images

Music snobs might argue that compact discs offer better sound quality than digital music services like Spotify and Apple Music. But these days, most folks prioritize portability over quality, considering over 73% of people listen to music through streaming services, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. 

Cassette players were the standard audio format from the 1970s to the early ’90s before CD sales surpassed cassettes in 1991, according to Kodak. In the ’80s, full-album cassette tapes would run about $6 to $8. In the ’90s, the average price for a new release CD was about $10 to $15, depending on where you shopped. 

Today, a new Spotify subscription will cost you $12 a month (the result of Spotify’s second price increase in one year). Apple Music is a tad cheaper at $11 a month, and you don’t have to be an Apple user to stream. But for the price of one CD, you can stream more than 100 million songs on Spotify and Apple Music. The one downside? You don’t own the album. 

Read more: Apple Music vs. Spotify: What’s the Best Music Streaming Service for You in 2024?

Long story short, everything is expensive 

Technology has its advantages, giving us convenience while allowing us to save money in the long run. We also get more options to upgrade or downgrade with different payment tiers (like spending extra for express shipping or premium streaming plans, for example).

But because technology is constantly evolving, we’re often buying more things, including protecting our new tech with phone cases, password protection and cloud storage. 

However, I think it’s safe to say most Gen Zers would be drowning in late fees at Blockbuster if they were responsible for returning a DVD on time. The same could be said for those of us who rent a new release on Amazon and don’t finish it within 48 hours. Either way, you’re out of luck (and 20 bucks). 



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