December is a time to honor the traditions associated with the holidays: celebrating with family, attending religious services, decorating a Christmas tree or lighting a menorah—and, more recently—complaining about how much the groceries 8-year-old Kevin McCallister purchased in the 1990 film Home Alone would cost today.
In the film’s famous grocery shopping scene, Kevin unloads 10 items at the store’s checkout: milk, toilet paper, laundry detergent, orange juice, cling wrap, white bread, macaroni and cheese, dryer sheets, a frozen TV dinner, and one bag of green army men—paying a meager $19.83 for the haul. Viral TikTok videos and various online commentators have all taken to the web to both voice their disbelief and assign blame for rising grocery costs across the country.
Sloppy methodology is the unifying feature of these complaints, however. In one video, the creator seemingly picks corresponding products found online at random, paying no attention to pricing differences between brands. In another story published last year, a journalist purchased similar goods at a local grocery store, taking no account for location-specific variation.
How much would Kevin’s 1990 grocery haul actually cost today? When a more consistent method is used to calculate current prices, and this is compared to income growth since 1990, the cost differential between Kevin’s basket of goods in 1990 and today is negligible.
Drawing a better comparison.
A consistent and transparent methodological approach is crucial to any such comparison. Differences in product availability, non-specific data on historic prices, and regional cost variations make for a troublesome task when comparing prices across a three-decade chasm of grocery lists. A product in one store can have a different price in a shop across the street, and shoppers in cities like Washington and Boston are paying very different prices than those in Birmingham, Alabama, or Columbia, South Carolina.
To help control for both regional and store-specific price differences, any serious analysis should take a (virtual) trip to Grand Food Center in Winnetka, Illinois—the actual grocery store visited by Kevin in the film. But what about products purchased by Kevin that are no longer sold at Grand Food Center? In these instances, an average of prices from a selection of national retailers—such as Target, Walmart, and Safeway—can be used instead. With these considerations in mind, what might an 8-year-old left home alone in Winnetka, Illinois, have to spend today for Kevin’s same basket of goods?
Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis indicates that the average price of a half-gallon of low-fat milk cost $1.33 in May 1990—the end of the period during which Home Alone was filmed. Today, a typical half-gallon of low-fat milk purchased at the Grand Food Center in Winnetka costs $3.29 according to the store’s website.
Toilet Paper: $4.97
Kevin purchased a four-pack of Quilted Northern toilet paper in 1990, but Grand Food Center sells the brand only in packs of either six or 12 rolls today, costing $10.99 and $19.99 respectively. Taking account that per-unit prices typically increase when purchasing smaller packages, some brief calculations suggest that a four pack might cost approximately $7.53 today. However, Quilted Northern’s standard toilet paper was only two-ply in 1990 compared to three-ply today, resulting in a modern ply-adjusted cost of $4.97.
Laundry Detergent: $14.69
In an impressive act of responsibility for an 8 year old, Kevin also purchases a mid-size bottle of Tide. Tide’s mid-size bottles hold 92 fluid ounces of detergent and currently cost $14.69 at Grand Food Center.
Orange Juice: $5.24
Springing for brand name over value, Kevin splurges on a half-gallon of Tropicana. However, he’s practical enough to whip out a coupon, to the amusement of the cashier. Tropicana’s standard orange juice costs $6.19 at Grand Food Center today, but comes in a different sized container than in the ‘90s. Controlling for the reduction in volume from 64 ounces in 1990 to 52 ounces today gives us an estimated equivalent price of $7.62. Subtract from this the $1 coupon used by Kevin in 1990—which would be worth $2.38 today—to reach a final orange juice cost of $5.24.
Cling Wrap: $2.69
The brand of wrap purchased by Kevin isn’t easily identifiable, but a 100-square-foot roll of Glad cling wrap currently costs $2.69 at Grand Food Center.
Wonder Bread: $3.47
White bread cost an average of $0.67 per pound in the U.S. in May 1990 and had risen to $1.98 per pound by November 2023. In the film, Kevin purchases a standard 1.25 pound loaf, suggesting an average cost of 83 cents in May 1990 and $2.48 in November 2023. Wonder Bread, as a recognized brand, costs slightly more than an average loaf, coming in at a 2023 price of $3.47 based on average costs at Safeway, Target, and Walmart.
Macaroni & Cheese: $3.74
A single box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese—the brand purchased by Kevin—now costs $1.99 at Grand Food Center. However, the microwavable big bowl is not stocked, and costs $3.74 on average at Safeway and Walmart.
Dryer Sheets: $2
Kevin purchases a small—likely 40-count—box of Snuggle brand dryer sheets. Grand Food Center no longer sells Snuggle brand, but Safeway, Target, and Walmart do at an average unit price of 5 cents per sheet, resulting in an approximate cost of $2 for a 40-count box today.
TV Dinner: $4.24
The specific brand of microwavable meal purchased by Kevin is unknown, but using the average cost of a Hungry Man Boneless Fried Chicken Dinner at Safeway, Target, and Walmart results in an estimated current-day cost of $4.24.
Toy Soldiers: $8.10
The present-day cost of a bag of toy soldiers is the most difficult to estimate. Neither Safeway nor Target currently sell an equivalent product, but Walmart does at a price of $8.91. Averaging the price of Walmart’s set with similar products sold by Hobby Lobby and Michaels leads to a 2023 estimate of $8.10.
So, how much?
With these estimates made, the total cost of Kevin’s cart in November 2023 is $50.43. As of December 2023, Illinois applies a 1 percent sales tax to grocery items and a 6.25 percent sales tax to other goods, resulting in a grand total of $52.64—a 165 percent increase in price from 1990. This is significantly lower than the 248 percent claimed by the viral TikTok video.
Additionally, this percentage takes only price inflation into account and ignores the fact that wages have also risen significantly since 1990. Kevin’s $19.83 in 1990, when adjusted for inflation, would have a purchasing power of $47.13 in November 2023. That gives us a much smaller 11.69 percent increase in real prices since 1990.
Finally, the median American is also wealthier today than three decades ago. In 1990, the median household earned $575.77 per week, so Kevin’s purchase cost about 3.4 percent of a median family’s weekly earnings. The median household income per week in November 2023 was $1,434.23, so the same bundle of goods represents only 3.6 percent of weekly median earnings today, a meager increase since 1990.
Being left home alone while your family jets off to Paris for the holidays would certainly remain a traumatizing experience for children everywhere—especially when two adult men insist on relentlessly attempting to break into your house. However, while keeping thieves at bay remains a difficult task for any 8-year-old boy, keeping hunger at bay would not be a significantly more expensive endeavor for a modern-day Kevin than his ‘90s counterpart.
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