'$16 burger': Viral 1996 ad predicts today’s high cost of living

A magazine ad from 1996 is going viral on social media for its prediction of what the cost of living would look like in three decades. 

"They say in thirty years a burger & fries could cost $16, a vacation $12,500, and a basic car $65,000," the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) and College Retirement Equities Fund (CREF) wrote in the advertisement. 

The ad sarcastically continued, "You’ll eat in. You won’t drive. And you won’t go anywhere."

The advertisement gained popularity on Reddit and other social media platforms, with many users and financial experts calling the prediction "true" and "accurate."


The advertisement gained popularity on Reddit and other social media platforms. (Credit: TIAA)

"I think it’s definitely very interesting in the sense that it was so eerily accurate," Jeffrey Mellone, a wealth management advisor at TIAA, told FOX Television Stations, but added, "It’s justified with historic data."

According to Trading Economics, the inflation rate in the United States has averaged 3.30% since 1914, underscoring that a seemingly small percentage increase over three decades can compound and significantly increase the cost of goods and services. 

"Things do gradually get more expensive over time. It’s like a slow creeping effect," Mellone continued. "I don’t think we’re going to see anything much, or any different, in the next 20 or 30 years." 

Cost of living amid inflation

In recent years, high inflation has caused the price of many goods including food, vacations, houses and cars to surge in price.

In March, a Five Guys receipt sparked outrage for its $24 grand total. The receipt showed that a bacon cheeseburger was sold for $12.49, along with a regular soda priced at $2.89. A small portion of fries was also added on – for a whopping $5.19.

RELATED: Five Guys' prices sparks outrage after $24 receipt goes viral: 'Highway robbery'

According to data collected by Edmunds.com earlier this year, the average price paid for a new vehicle in the United States fell 1.2% in January from a year earlier, to $47,338. In contrast to conventional gasoline-powered vehicles, the average price of an electric vehicle actually rose 2% during the past year to $60,630. 

Another recent study found that the cost of a one-week vacation in the U.S. for a family of four is nearly $8,000. The price may be even higher for those traveling internationally.

"I feel like the larger point to take from the ad is that things will generally get more expensive over time, so the idea of just having money isn’t really the plan," Mellone explained. 

He said that it’s important for people to develop a plan including diverse income streams. 

Financial experts often recommend investing in different securities and types of assets, because it may reduce risk without sacrificing much in the way of returns and doesn’t depend too much on any single investment.

How expensive will a cheeseburger and fries get?

So, will Americans see a $30-dollar cheeseburger and fries in 30 years?

"It’s difficult to say," Mellone said, adding, "The crystal ball’s always a little bit murky, but going forward we're probably going to see something similar to what we’ve seen historically if I were to take a guess at it."

This story was reported from Los Angeles.