...or so I thought.
It turns out that LEGO, adjusted for inflation, are actually WAY cheaper than they were when I was a kid. There's a few things you have to keep in mind though. 1) Make sure you're comparing apples to apples, and 2) Licensed products don't count. To the first point, modern LEGO sets are way more complicated than back in the 1990's. One of my favorite sets growing up, Dark Dragon's Den, was a small castle with a wizard, a dragon, and some guards. It was a mid-range castle, not nearly as large as the full Royal Knight's castle but big enough to house plenty of adventurous. I found the old box and it turns out this set, which has a few hundred pieces total, cost $40...back in 1993. If we're doing a straight conversion to 2016 dollars, that's about $66 modern day. However take a look at the modern LEGO sets and you can easily find 400, 500, 600 piece sets...for only $40 or less today. The sets look a little more compact (far more detail-related pieces and specialty items) but are far more intricate. If anything, the value of the LEGO sets have become much more affordable in recent years.
Where this equation runs into trouble, however, is with licensed products, like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and the Marvel sets. In these cases, it's not uncommon to find a 500 or 600 piece set going for $70 or so, making them seem "much more expensive" than they were back in the day. Of course, even at these prices, they're still about the same adjusted for inflation, but the cultural memory of a $40 v. a now $70 makes it seem much different. Still, if you can convince a child to stick with the non-licensed products, you've got yourself a much better deal than in years past.
Why am I writing about this today? I had a chance to go shopping for my upcoming LEGO camps on June 27th and in mid-July. This year, I was able to work a small budget into the camp cost to upgrade the sets for the kids and I found that, as long as I stuck to City, Castle, or Ninja sets and avoided the licensed materials, I could buy much much more than I thought.
So before you complain about "when I was a kid" (I can finally say that literally), take a look at the math. It turns out that things aren't so bad now either.