Poll: 9 in 10 U.S. adults hit by price hikes in 2021

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Are you getting sticker shock when you pay for everyday goods and services, from a burger to a haircut to a new sofa? Almost nine in 10 U.S. adults (89 percent) say they’ve paid higher prices this year.

A July 2021 survey of 2,420 U.S. adults conducted by YouGov for Bankrate found that many Americans say recent price hikes have hit their wallets hard, and older consumers have felt the squeeze more than younger ones.

These are the top three categories in which consumers reported higher prices:

  • Groceries (71 percent)
  • Gas (67 percent)
  • Restaurants (46 percent)

The poll also found reports of higher prices on consumer products such as clothes, furniture and electronics (35 percent) as well as home services such as construction, house cleaning and landscaping (26 percent). Plus, travel costs such as airfare, hotels and car rental (26 percent) and personal care services such as salons and gyms (21 percent).

Prices are on the rise due to a mix of factors, including changes in consumer behavior, supply chain issues and shortages of some raw materials, says Ryan Sweet, a U.S. economist with Moody’s Analytics.

“Almost all of it can be attributed to the pandemic,” Sweet says.

Prices skyrocketing? Depends who you ask

A Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2021 report shows that prices have surged on nearly everything—from bacon to dog food to underwear. Overall, consumer prices have gone up 5.4 percent over the past year, according to the BLS.

But the Bankrate survey found that price hikes didn’t register for everyone and that older consumers were more likely to report price increases. Here’s a generational breakdown of consumers who reported higher prices:

  • 95 percent of baby boomers (age 57 to 75)
  • 92 percent of Gen Xers (age 41 to 56)
  • 84 percent of millennials (age 25 to 40)
  • 75 percent of Gen Zers (age 18 to 24)

Those differences apply in various spending categories, starting with buying the ingredients for dinner. About half as many Gen Zers (40 percent) as Gen Xers (79 percent) reported an increase in grocery prices. Among boomers, the number was even higher: 89 percent.

When it comes to the cost of fueling up a car, only 45 percent of Gen Zers reported paying more at the pump, compared with 53 percent of millennials, 70 percent of Gen Xers and 81 percent of boomers.

As for eating at restaurants, over half of boomers (56 percent) and Gen Xers (53 percent) said the cost of dining out has gone up, compared with about one in three millennials (34 percent) and Gen Zers (31 percent).

This data shows that some consumers are noticing price increases more than others, Bankrate industry analyst Ted Rossman says. “Price increases have been well-documented in all of these categories, so I believe most of the variability can be attributed to perception,” he says.

Price hikes hit middle-income families and boomers

Consumers across all age groups who have noticed higher prices say these surges are hurting their money situation.

In fact, two out of three consumers who saw price increases (66 percent) said higher costs have had a negative impact on their finances. Of this group, 39 percent said their finances have been somewhat negatively affected and 27 percent said their finances have been very negatively impacted.

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One millennial, 36-year-old Alina Clark from Los Angeles, says her costs for using Uber and Lyft to commute to work have tripled since before the pandemic. She went back to work in person three months ago and paid $150 in just one day for ridesharing. “My personal transport budget was absolutely destroyed by those prices,” she says, adding that she’s had to cut back in other areas and is considering buying a car even though she hates driving in bad weather and traffic.

Rising prices seem to be hitting middle-income households especially hard. The poll found these percentages of households at different income levels reported negative impacts from higher prices:

  • 64 percent of lower-income households (below $40,000)
  • 71 percent of middle-income households ($40,000 to $79,999)
  • 58 percent of higher-income households ($80,000 and up)

And the negative financial impacts of price hikes also increased with age. In the Bankrate survey, 75 percent of boomers and 70 percent of Gen Xers who noticed higher prices reported negative effects on their money situations. But only slightly more than half of younger generations (55 percent of millennials and 54 percent of Gen Zers) said higher prices have hurt them financially.

One consumer, Patti Naiser, a senior living adviser in Louisville, Kentucky who is in her 50s, says higher utility bills have hit her budget hard. She’s making up for it by buying local produce, forgoing imported foods like olives and goat cheese and reducing restaurant meals. “I can’t afford to eat out as frequently as it was making a huge dent in my pocket,” she says.

Having to pay more for everyday items hits older generations harder for a variety of reasons, Rossman says. “Price increases are especially painful for boomers who are trying to make their savings last,” he says. Also, he points out, older adults are probably invested more conservatively and may be retired.

“Younger, employed adults are in a better position to weather rising costs because their salaries should be rising as well,” Rossman says. “And they can afford to take more risk because their investments have a much longer time horizon.”

Taking action to offset higher prices

Consumers are taking steps to deal with the hardship of increasing prices and get their budgets in better shape, the poll found.

About four in five consumers (79 percent) who reported paying higher prices have taken action to cope with these higher costs. The poll found that Americans reported adjusting their financial strategy in these ways:

  • Avoiding or delaying certain purchases (45 percent)
  • Cutting back in some areas to afford purchases (47 percent)
  • Making an effort to research deals and shop sales (38 percent)
  • Dipping into savings (22 percent)
  • Trying to increase income (19 percent)

Trying to make more money was a popular move for younger consumers, many of whom may view side hustles as the norm. About one in three members of younger generations who say they’ve paid higher prices (34 percent of Gen Zers and 30 percent of millennials) have actively tried to increase their incomes compared with one in five Gen Xers (19 percent) and one in 10 boomers (10 percent).

Some Americans have turned to credit cards to cover the shortfall. In fact, 20 percent of consumers reported racking up more debt due to rising prices. This includes credit card debt and loans from friends or family.

And consumers who are pulling out their credit cards more are also being hit with another type of price increase: credit card surcharges. The poll found almost one in five (19 percent) U.S. adults have paid an extra fee for using a credit card this year.

When you’re putting a budget shortfall on a credit card, you’re setting yourself up for financial insecurity, says Shaquana Watson-Harkness. A Gen Xer and personal finance coach in the Philadelphia area (at dollarsmakescents.com), Watson-Harkness has paid off $169,000 in consumer debt.

“Every time you put a charge on that card, you’re putting yourself in the negative,” she says.

How to cope with higher prices

Prices on goods and services may stop skyrocketing soon. In the meantime, it’s wise to take action to keep higher costs from leaving you with loads of credit card debt.

Here are 4 tips on how to survive higher prices:

  • Make (or tweak) a budget. If you already have a budget, take a look at what’s changed in the past few months and see if you need to adjust. If you don’t have a budget, use a free budget template or an app like EveryDollar or Mint to make one, Watson-Harkness says. “You have to be intentional about where your money goes,” she says.
  • Shop around. If you’ve never been a comparison shopper, now may be the time to start. In Lincoln, Nebraska, Jessica Clark, a 35-year-old mom and recipe developer at GlutenFreeSupper.com, used to get groceries at one store, but now shops three or four. She gets gluten-free frozen pizzas for $5 at ALDI, half the price she used to pay elsewhere, but eggs are cheaper at Target. “It’s quite time-consuming to do comparison shopping at multiple stores, but worth it for the savings,” she says.
  • Ramp up your earnings. As the pandemic continues, labor shortages have hit many businesses hard. If it’s feasible and safe for you to do so, consider finding a way to increase your income through a part-time job or side gig—for example, doing landscaping, pet sitting or freelance writing. Check out these tips for starting a side hustle to earn extra money.
  • Wait it out if you can. Are you planning a big purchase or a much-needed vacation? Maybe you want to buy a new Subaru or head to Hawaii. Think about whether a tune-up and a staycation would tide you over for now and allow you to postpone the purchase or trip.

Going forward, we should see prices begin to moderate late this year and into early next year, Sweet says. Used car prices have already started down that road, and he says he expects to see the cost of airfare, lodging and rental cars start to follow soon.

“The good news is this is temporary,” he says. “We’re not going to continue to see the rate of inflation we’ve seen over the last few months.”

Survey methodology

Bankrate.com commissioned YouGov to conduct the online survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 2,420 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken July 28-30, 2021.

Written by
Allie Johnson
Personal Finance Writer
Allie has written about personal finance and covered credit cards extensively for more than 10 years. Allie covers avoiding credit card debt, choosing credit cards wisely and earning and maximizing credit card rewards.
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