What Does $20 Buy You in Today’s Economy?


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Imagine you time traveled back to the year 2000 with $20 in your pocket. According to the CPI Inflation Calculator, that $20 bill would be the equivalent of about $33.95 today in purchasing power.

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Twenty-two years ago, the inflation rate was 3.36%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index, the dollar has had an average inflation rate of 2.43% per year between 2000 and today. And while the current inflation rate is now 8.58%, what is interesting is that if this number holds, $20 today will be equivalent in buying power to $21.72 in 2023.

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While there are certain things $20 can no longer buy in 2022’s current economy, like a full tank of gas, $20 can still go a long way in purchasing essential and discretionary items.

Kitchen Cookware

In a recent GOBankingRates survey polling 1,000 Americans about inflation and its impact on their financial habits, 62% of respondents said they were cutting costs by no longer dining out or getting delivery. As more Americans dine in and spend time cooking to cut costs, certain types of kitchen cookware may be purchased for under $20 that assist in meal preparation. Some of these include the following kitchenware items:

  • Rice cookers
  • Slow cookers
  • Crock pots
  • Egg cookers

These items may be found for under $20 each by shopping with Amazon, Target and Kohl’s.

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Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

If you are on a tight budget or receive SNAP benefit assistance, you might wonder if it’s possible to eat well on $20. A blog post from the National Council On Aging (NCOA) outlines various types of grocery shopping baskets that allow you to purchase essential foods for under $20.

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When it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables, you may purchase:

  • 2 pounds of bananas for $1.26
  • 2 pounds of navel oranges for $2.86
  • One pint of strawberries for $3.10
  • One 5-pound bag of white potatoes for $3.95
  • 1 pound of fresh tomatoes for $1.89
  • 2 pounds of romaine lettuce for $6.36

The total for this basket of fruits and vegetables should be an estimated $19.42.

Basic Food Staples

While other food basket examples from NCOA are a few cents more than $20 in their total, including purchases for protein and breakfast, lunch and dinner, you may still purchase basic food staples for under $20. Here’s a look at the breakdown:

  • One 5-pound bag of white, all-purpose flour for $2.10
  • One 5-pound bag of white sugar for $3.55
  • Two 16-ounce boxes of dried pasta for $2.32
  • One 5-pound bag of dried beans for $7.50
  • One 5-pound bag of white rice for $4.15

The total for this basket of basic staples should be an estimated $19.62.

Reusable Shopping Bags

While we’re on the topic of the types of groceries you may purchase for under $20, many retailers and some grocery stores sell reusable shopping bags.

After you’ve purchased a reusable shopping bag, remember to take it with you during your next shopping trip. These bags may be reused for a wide variety of purchases and investing in one ensures you don’t have to pay a bit extra for paper or plastic bagging options. You can also find reusable shopping bags for under $20 that are insulated, ensuring any perishable items are kept cool.

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Mini Humidifier

You can use $20 to buy a mini or personal humidifier. If you have respiratory issues or struggle with dry skin, purchasing a mini humidifier and keeping it in your bedroom, study or home office adds moisture to the air and helps alleviate these symptoms.

Personal Fans

Summer 2022 is breaking heatwave records across the United States and driving up the cost of utility expenses, including air conditioning bills. Households in need of relief from the heat can put a $20 bill to good use in purchasing a personal fan.

Most of these fans have estimated pricing below $20 across most retailers including Amazon and Staples. Those working from home can plug these fans in to help keep cool during the heat of the day or put them on at night to lower AC costs.

Charging Cables

Most of today’s population is plugged in via laptops and smartphones and rely on charging cables to keep their devices charged at full capacity.

Most electronic retailers sell charging cables for less than $20 with a few of the cutoff prices at $19.99. Jack and power adapters are usually priced for under $20. Some portable chargers are also $20 or less. Shop around to compare prices and make sure your purchase is compatible with your specific electronics.

Bedding Essentials

Admittedly, this final one is a bit of a cheat. You won’t be able to purchase all the items necessary for a bedroom using $20 alone. The price also depends on the size of the bedding item you’re buying (note that items in king or queen size will always be a bit more expensive than those in twin sizes) and the retailer.

But you can still pick up one or two essentials. Put $20 toward key bedding must-haves, like a fleece blanket or microfiber pillow, for a restful night’s sleep.

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About the Author

Heather Taylor is a senior finance writer for GOBankingRates. She is also the head writer and brand mascot enthusiast for PopIcon, Advertising Week’s blog dedicated to brand mascots. She has been published on HelloGiggles, Business Insider, The Story Exchange, Brit + Co, Thrive Global, and more media outlets.

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