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Inflation is causing American households to spend $445 more per month buying the same items they did a year ago, according to an estimate from Moody’s Analytics.
Consumer prices jumped by 8.2% in September versus the same month in 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Thursday. That rate is down from 9.1% in June, which marked the recent peak, but is still near the highest levels since the early 1980s.
Wages for many workers haven’t kept pace with inflation, meaning they’ve lost purchasing power. Hourly earnings fell 3%, on average, in the year to September after accounting for inflation, according to the BLS.
Regardless, it has been a “tough time” for all households, said Ryan Sweet, lead U.S. economist at Moody’s.
“Inflation is affecting people very, very differently,” Sweet said. “But everyone is feeling the effect.”
The Moody’s estimate of inflation’s dollar impact analyzes September’s annual inflation rate and typical household outlays as outlined by the Consumer Expenditure Survey.
Households can take certain steps to blunt the impact — and most are unlikely to feel good, according to financial advisors.
“There’s no one silver bullet,” said Joseph Bert, a certified financial planner who serves as chairman and CEO of Certified Financial Group. The firm, based in Altamonte Springs, Florida, ranked No. 95 on the 2022 CNBC Financial Advisor 100 list.
“It’s all those little decisions that add up at the end of the month,” Bert said.
Firstly, it’s critical to separate fixed from discretionary expenses, said Madeline Maloon, a financial advisor at San Ramon, California-based California Financial Advisors, which ranked No. 27 on CNBC’s FA 100 list.
Fixed expenses are outlays for essentials like a mortgage, rent, food, transit costs and insurance, for example. Discretionary costs include spending on, say, dining out or vacations — things people enjoy but don’t necessarily need.
There’s often less flexibility to cut fixed expenses, meaning non-essentials are the budget area where households likely have to make cuts if they want to save money, Maloon said.
Households may need to ask questions, Maloon added, such as: Is that new car necessary? Can I buy a used car or a cheaper model instead? Is a home remodel essential or something that can be put on hold and re-evaluated at a different time?
Americans can also consider substitutions: traveling somewhere closer to home instead of a more expensive vacation destination farther away, or staying at cheaper lodging, for example. Or, perhaps getting a haircut every eight to 10 weeks instead of every six.
They can also reassess monthly subscriptions — to clothing and streaming services, for example — which can often serve as “money drains,” Maloon said. Some may be little-used but continue to suck money from your account each month.
“If you’re continuing to live the same lifestyle, you’re paying more for it,” Bert said.
Every purchasing decision generally has an alternative, and people trying to save money can look for a cheaper option to the extent possible, Bert said.
There are some ways households can save money on their fixed bucket of expenses, too. Relative to grocery shopping, consumers can stock up on staples, shop with a food list, compare stores to find the best deals and switch up they’re eating, for example.
Consumers who commute to work and spend a lot on gasoline, for example, may be able to trim their transit budget by using a price-tracking service, paying in cash, being more strategic about driving schedules and signing up for loyalty programs.
Importantly, Americans should avoid funding higher costs with a credit card or via a withdrawal or loan from a retirement plan, Bert said.
“That’s the worst thing you can do,” he added. “You’ll pay a huge price for that in years to come.”