With inflation rates surging at rates not seen in decades, many consumers are wondering how to keep rising prices from negatively affecting their savings and spending habits.
Prices on consumer goods and services including food, energy, and housing have been rising for the past few months. They jumped again in November, rising to 6.8% over the previous year, according to the latest consumer price index data released Friday.
Along with rising prices this year, there have also been supply-chain bottlenecks and rising consumer demand—all of which can cause real challenges as the average American’s purchasing power degrades over time.
While the effects of inflation are not easily avoided, several financial planners tell Fortune that there are steps consumers can take to duck the worst effects.
Avoid buying a car if you possibly can
Putting off a major purchase may be the right option now, especially on a new car, says Jay Zigmont, a certified financial planner (CFP) and founder of Mississippi-based financial firm Live, Learn, Plan. “If your car works and gets you to work, then stick with it,” he says.
That’s because while auto loan rates are low, the cost of new cars has surged 11.1% over the past year, according to the consumer price index. But inflation on used cars is even worse—up 31.4% over the past year. Zigmont says in general, car prices have gotten a “bit disconnected from reality,” and consumers need to ask themselves if they really need a new car right now.
“Try paying for a complete detailing of your car and it will feel new to you without the sticker shock,” he says.
For those with car leases running out in the next few months, financial planner Chris Diodato says it may be worth buying out the lease rather than shopping around for a new car or lease. Buyout prices, which are indicated on the initial lease contract, have been far below current resale value, says Diodato, a CFP and founder of Florida-based WELLth Financial Planning.
Grow investments, rather than savings accounts
One thing that makes inflation particularly difficult for savers is the low-interest-rate environment that the U.S. has been experiencing, says Matt Elliott, a CFP and founder of Minnesota-based Pulse Financial Planning. “Your cash at the bank makes close to no interest, yet prices are increasing on everything you buy. That can cause your purchasing power to degrade over time if you aren’t invested,” Elliott says.
He recommends consumers consider investing in a diversified portfolio that includes investments that will go up with inflation, such as Series I savings bonds and Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS). I bonds, for example, currently offer an interest rate of 7.12% through April 2022.
Yet while the interest rate on Series I bonds is attractive, financial planner Jovan Johnson says investors need to put in the effort to understand how these work and how that can impact their timeline for this money.
For instance, investors are generally limited to buying $10,000 worth of I bonds annually per person, and you can’t sell these bonds for at least 12 months. If you redeem them in less than five years, then you’ll forfeit three months of interest, says Johnson, a CFP and owner of Georgia-based Piece of Wealth Planning. “Overall, I believe that I bonds are a very secure and great place to park your money if you don’t need this money for at least one year,” he adds.
“Many young people sit with lots of extra cash as they are unsure what to do with it, but that can be harmful now,” says Thomas Kopelman, cofounder of Indiana-based AllStreet Wealth. “You should only have cash for an emergency fund, as well as cash for short-term goals (vacation, down payment of house, etc.), then you need to invest the rest.”
Think about buying more veggies
More than any other strategy, financial planner Elliott Appel recommends shifting what you buy from items that are highly impacted by inflation, to items that have escaped the worst of it.
“Not all items have seen the same rate of inflation,” adds Appel, a CFP and founder of Wisconsin-based Kindness Financial Planning.
Most consumers, for instance, have noticed grocery bills going up, but much of those cost increases are tied to rising prices for animal-derived products, says Andy Baxley, an Illinois-based CFP with the Planning Center.
“Experimenting with plant-based dishes is one way to reduce pain at the checkout counter. I am encouraging folks to get creative with their budgets right now,” he says.
Or maybe instead of buying beef, buy chicken. Beef prices have risen 20.9% in the past 12 months, according to the latest consumer price index. Chicken prices increased only 9.2% over the past year, and the cost of other uncooked poultry products, including turkey, is up only 4.6%. Meanwhile, shelf-stable fish and seafood such as canned tuna haven’t seen any increases. “You can research what’s gone up the most over the past year and perhaps buy less of it,” Appel says.
Spend less, if you can
This is a good time to reconsider your overall spending, says Dana Menard, a CFP and founder of Minnesota-based Twin Cities Wealth Strategies.
“When necessities begin to cost more, discretionary spending should be reevaluated so as to not neglect the things that are necessary,” he says.
This may be as simple as getting rid of or canceling unused subscriptions, but Menard says it’s important to consider where and how you’re spending your money. That’s especially true around the holidays, when people make impulsive purchases, and gift-buying can sometimes trump logic.
Although it might not be easy to make these changes right now, Elliott says the good news is that many financial experts and economists predict the current rates of high inflation will start to subside.
“While heightened inflation could be temporary, it may be best to hope for the best, but prepare your finances in case we see sustained inflation over the longer term.”
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