Poll: roughly 3 in 4 say inflation is hurting them financially
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Are you feeling the pinch of rising prices on everything from bread to dog food to a tank of gas? Most Americans say they are shelling out more money for groceries, fuel and household goods, a new Bankrate survey found.
Nearly all (93 percent) consumers have experienced higher prices over the past year, the February 2022 survey of more than 2,386 U.S. adults found. Here are the most cited categories and the percentage of people who reported seeing price hikes in these areas, according to the survey:
- Groceries (81 percent)
- Gas (73 percent)
- Restaurants (57 percent)
- Consumer products (42 percent)
The consumer products category includes a range of items, from clothes to electronics to furniture and other household goods. Fewer consumers reported higher prices on services.
But the price increases on goods are hitting wallets hard. Almost three in four consumers (74 percent) who have noticed higher prices say their financial situation has been somewhat or very negatively affected by the increases. That’s 8 percentage points higher than when we asked the same question just seven months prior in July 2021.
Why are prices going up so much? Demand has risen faster than supply as we round the corner on the pandemic, says Scott Hoyt, senior director for Moody’s Analytics, who handles the firm’s consumer forecasts and analysis.
“Various waves of COVID-19 have disrupted both the production and transport of goods,” Hoyt says, citing supply constraints and lack of workers as contributing factors. At the same time, some Americans have been able to sock away more money during the pandemic. Hoyt says: “Demand rebounded faster than supply, and you have a classic problem of too much money chasing too few goods.”
Earlier in the pandemic, in the spring and summer of 2021, consumers expected prices to rise back to pre-pandemic levels in categories like air travel and restaurant dining as the economy opened up. But now, many are experiencing sticker shock with soaring prices at the grocery store and gas pump.
“While inflation has been running hot for about a year now, it has really hit home in recent months,” says Ted Rossman, Bankrate senior industry analyst. “Gas prices, already spiking for various reasons, have further accelerated due to the Russia/Ukraine conflict,” says Rossman. “This is weighing on consumer sentiment and could hamper what is otherwise expected to be a busy spring and summer travel season.”
Boomers hit hardest by price hikes
The majority of all generations have noticed higher prices, but the likelihood of feeling the pain of inflation increases with age, the Bankrate survey found. Here’s a generational breakdown of the percentage of consumers who say they have noticed higher prices over the past year:
- Baby boomers (ages 58 to 76) – 98 percent
- Gen Xers (ages 42 to 57) – 95 percent
- Millennials (ages 26 to 41) – 89 percent
- Gen Zers (ages 18 to 25) – 83 percent
These generational differences are most stark when it comes to the price of food and gas. For example, 94 percent of boomers have noted higher grocery prices compared to 72 percent of millennials and just 52 percent of Gen Zers.
A recently retired former dog trainer, Robyn Michaels lives in Chicago and says she has felt the squeeze on her budget as prices surge—especially on groceries and gas. She’s watched lettuce go from 99 cents to $1.29 a head and a cucumber-lime juice she likes go from $1.89 to $2.45 in just a month.
“These prices didn’t just go up 7 percent or 10 percent. In some cases, they’ve gone up 50 percent,” Michaels says. “It’s outrageous.”
There are two big reasons older Americans are feeling these price increases more, says Rossman. One is that boomers are more likely to be in or close to retirement. Thus, they’re focused on drawing down their savings and investments rather than building up. And the other is more psychological: memories of the rampant inflation of the 1970s and early 80s, he says.
“It’s clear that inflation —not higher interest rates—is the dominant kitchen table economics concern right now,” Rossman says. “This has major ramifications for consumers, the economy, politics and more.”
How consumers deal with higher prices
“With so many Americans spending more for food, shelter and other necessities, something has to give,” says Rossman. “They either need to cut back on other purchases, save less or take on more debt.”
According to the survey, that’s exactly what’s happening: Eighty-four percent of people who have experienced higher prices have taken action in response. Here are some of the most common moves consumers have made to deal with higher costs:
- Cutting back in some areas to afford other higher-priced items (58 percent)
- Going out of their way to find discounts (47 percent)
- Dipping into savings to afford goods that cost more (29 percent)
- Actively trying to increase income (25 percent)
- Taking on additional debt such as putting items on a credit card (23 percent)
Since asking consumers the same questions in Bankrate’s July 2021 Rising Prices Survey, these techniques have only become more widespread. Here’s how money-saving tactics have increased in the seven months between the surveys.
Older generations are most likely to mitigate the effects of rising prices by cutting back on spending. Almost two in three (61 percent) baby boomers and Gen Xers say they are reducing spending compared to 55 percent of millennials and only 46 percent of Gen Zers.
Conversely, younger Americans are more likely to embrace income-boosting tactics, like asking their boss for a raise, starting up a side hustle, getting a new job or working more hours. More than one in three millennials (39 percent) and Gen Zers (35 percent) are actively seeking to boost their income, compared to fewer than one in four (23 percent) Gen Xers and a little over one in 10 (13 percent) baby boomers.
A 35-year-old home and garden blogger and stay-at-home mom in Billings Montana, Elizabeth Preble, says her family has made some big changes. These include cutting out restaurant meals, ordering pizza less often, and pausing family activities like skiing, horseback riding and trips to Bozeman.
The biggest change: Preble took on 10 to 15 hours a week of contract paralegal work, which she juggles with homeschooling her four kids, who are 3, 5, 8 and 9 years old. “It helps a little in terms of bridging the money gap,” she says of her new online gig. “But it does put a lot of stress on our family.”
Americans worry prices will continue to rise
Many consumers are worried that high prices will continue to hit their budgets hard this year, and some also are concerned about high interest rates. More than four in five consumers (82 percent) are fretting about at least one of these issues.
The survey found that the following percentages of U.S. adults are worried about how these problems will affect their financial situations in the coming year:
- New or continued price increases taking a bite out of their budgets (73 percent)
- Higher interest rates making credit card and other debt more costly (33 percent)
Across all generations, worry about higher interest rates is consistently fairly low (35 percent of Gen Xers, 34 percent of millennials and 32 percent of boomers and Gen Zers.)
A larger share of consumers of all ages worry about price increases, especially boomers (81 percent) and Gen Xers (80 percent) compared to 67 percent of millennials and 54 percent of Gen Zers.
The recently retired dog trainer in Chicago, Michaels, says rapid inflation has her “somewhat worried.” But, she adds: “I have some side hustles and a generous younger roommate, so I’m not panicked.”
How to mitigate inflation’s effects
Has inflation hurt you financially? Here’s advice from experts and other consumers on how to weather the current price increases.
- Revamp your budget to reflect higher prices. Take a close look at where prices have gone up, and decide how to adjust your spending in response. And if you do all your spending on your credit card, you may want to switch to cash or debit for now to become more aware of your spending and avoid inadvertently racking up debt due to rising prices, says Pam Horack, a CFP, who goes by “Your Financial Mom.” She says: “Every time you’re a step removed from cash, it’s easier to spend.”
- Get rid of unwanted subscriptions draining your cash. A recent Bankrate survey found that half of U.S. adults who have joined a subscription or membership have experienced unwanted charges. And data from Chase shows that these unwanted subscriptions could be costing you as much as $600 a year. Check out the full subscription service survey from Bankrate for our advice on avoiding unwanted charges. The first step: finding them. “Comb back through your credit card bills and make sure you’re only paying for what you need,” Horack says.
- Stock up on essentials when you spot good deals. Look for good prices on items you use regularly, and try to buy extra when you find a deal. For example, Michaels says she tracks prices on butter for baking and stocks up during sales. Preble agrees. “My advice is always to have extra in case things become too expensive or there are shortages,” Preble says. “If something is on sale, pick up two instead of one, especially if it has a long shelf life.”
- Join a no-buy club in your area. No buy clubs are becoming more popular among neighbors trying to get rid of clutter and stretch their dollars further. “My neighbors have a ‘buy nothing’ feed on Facebook, and that helps us all—giving stuff away,” Michaels says. She has seen audio components, clothing and furniture offered, all for free. “There’s everything you can think of—even food,” she says.
- Lower your home energy costs. Contact your power company to ask if they offer free energy audits, Horack says. That’s how she found out energy was leaking out of her home through an old garage door, not the windows. Energy.gov also offers easy ways to avoid wasting energy in your home, and you may be able to save 10 to 20 percent per year on energy costs just by fixing air leaks. You may also cut costs by using more efficient light bulbs. In fact, when Horack got her energy audit, “They brought a bunch of free light bulbs—the good, expensive kind,” she says.
Finally, take heart in knowing prices won’t keep soaring at the current rate forever. With the caveat that recent events in Europe may extend this rapid inflation—especially with gas and energy prices—price increases should moderate over time, Hoyt says.
“We’re probably at or near the peak right now,” he says.