The Inflation Experience Is Painful and Personal
Inflation is a sustained increase in prices that reduces the purchasing power of your money over time. According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), inflation peaked at an annual rate of 9.1% in June 2022, the fastest pace since 1981, before ticking down to 7.7% in October.1
The CPI tracks changes in the cost of a market basket of goods and services purchased by consumers. Items are sorted into more than 200 categories and weighted according to their "relative importance," a ratio that represents how consumers divide up their spending, on average. Basic needs such as shelter (33%), food (14%), energy (8%), transportation (8%), and medical care (7%) account for about two-thirds of consumer expenditures. Because the CPI is a comprehensive measure of prices across the U.S. economy, the index also contains many items that an individual consumer may purchase infrequently, or not at all.
Wide variations in spending patterns help explain why some consumers feel the sting of inflation more than others. This means that the extent to which you experience inflation depends a lot on where you live, as well as your age, health, income, family size, and lifestyle. In effect, your personal inflation rate could be significantly higher or lower than the average headline inflation rate captured in the CPI. Consider the following examples.
- In October 2022, the 12-month increase in the cost of shelter was 6.9%.2 Shelter carries the most weight of any category in the CPI, which made fast-rising home prices and rents a top driver of inflation over the previous year. A first-time homebuyer, or a renter who signs a new lease, is likely to feel the full impact of these hefty price increases. However, a homeowner with a fixed-rate mortgage is generally insulated from these rising costs and might even benefit financially from home-equity gains.
- Gasoline surged 17.5% during the 12 months ended in October 2022.3 Individuals who rarely drive, possibly because they are retired or work remotely, might have been able to shrug off the price spike. But for drivers with long commutes, filling up the gas tank regularly might have put a sizable dent in their households' finances, in some cases forcing them to cut back on other purchases.
- Food and beverage prices rose 10.9% over the same 12-month period, a trend that clearly affects everyone.4 But rising food costs tend to put more pressure on the budgets of lower-income households because they spend a greater share of their income on necessities and typically have smaller financial cushions. Plus, shoppers can't easily switch to lower-cost options if they are already relying on them.5
1-4) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022
5) Federal Reserve, 2022
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