Inflation is costing U.S. households nearly $300 more a month. Here’s how to adjust your budget

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A shopper bags fruit inside a supermarket in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on Feb. 7, 2022.
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Inflation is costing the average U.S. household an additional $296 per month, a Moody’s Analytics analysis found.

The figure is based on the latest reading on consumer prices, which rose 7.5% in January compared with a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“It is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Moody’s Analytics senior economist Ryan Sweet, who conducted the analysis.

While the pain is felt across the board, some are feeling it worse than others.

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Low- and middle-income U.S. households spent approximately 7% more in 2021 for the same products they bought in 2020 or in 2019, an analysis by the Penn Wharton Budget Model found. In comparison, spending by wealthy households went up 6%.

A separate study by Wells Fargo showed the middle-class, in particular, is getting squeezed. Inflation was half a point higher for middle-income consumers than those at the highest and lowest end of the spectrum in December, Wells Fargo economists found. When broken down by race and ethnicity, Hispanics and Latinos had the steepest jump in living costs.

“The fear of inflation, the pandemic and war are challenging what future generations consider to be the American Dream,” said money expert Sahirenys Pierce, founder of personal finance blog Poised Finance Lifestyle.

Here are three ways you can try to combat inflation — and two things not to do.

1. Plan ahead

To save on gas, be strategic about the use of your car. If you have to run errands, do them in one trip and at a time when there is not a lot of traffic, suggests Misty Lynch, a certified financial planner with Walpole, Massachusetts-based Sound View Financial Advisors.

When grocery shopping, be armed with a meal plan for the week that’s already in place.

“It does help people save money if they know what they are going to eat and stick with it,” Lynch said.

Pierce likes apps such as Flipp to look up grocery store ads. She creates a meal plan for the week that incorporates items that are on sale and prepares three of those meals on Sunday. Having a plan in place for the remaining days of the week helps her avoid picking up takeout or fast food.

“This strategy has helped my family save hundreds of dollars during our debt-free journey, the pandemic and now during times of high inflation,” Pierce said.

2. Shop wisely

If you don’t need a specific brand item, you may save money at a discount grocery store. Buying items in bulk in a warehouse store, like Costco or BJ’s, may help you avoid future price hikes.

To comparison-shop, look at a product’s unit price, which is essentially the cost per unit of a particular product. For instance, canned goods may be priced per ounce and paper goods may be by sheet or feet. So while a product may seem cheaper at first, it may not be the best deal because it has fewer units than a higher-priced item.

Use coupons in-store and online. You may get them as part of a retailer’s reward program or credit card. Meanwhile, browser extensions like Rakuten and Honey automatically search for coupon codes and apply them at check out when shopping online.

3. Check your budget weekly

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Since prices are increasing so frequently, it’s a good idea to review and reassess your budget on a weekly basis, Pierce said.

“You want to be aware of where all of your money is going and give yourself the opportunity to lower another area of your budget to make the numbers work,” she said.

One way to lower your costs is to cut out things you don’t need, like subscription services. You can also try negotiating to lower bills like your cable bill or car insurance, Lynch suggested.

Save on energy by unplugging appliances when they are not in use or using power strips with switches that allow you to completely turn off the products plugged into it. By doing so you could save 5% to 10% of your residential energy use, according to the Department of Energy. Turning down the heat can also help save money.

4. Watch out for credit card debt

It might be tempting to ride out the storm by accumulating credit card debt. Don’t do it, said Dawit Kebede, senior economist at the Credit Union National Association.

Credit card interest rates are already high, clocking in at an average just over 16%, according to CreditCards.com. They are expected to rise as the Federal Reserve hikes interest rates this year to help contain inflation.

5. Mind your retirement savings

The worst thing that people saving for retirement can do is stop putting money aside to help pay for increased costs now, Lynch said.

“Twenty years from now, things are going to be twice as expensive,” she said. “Don’t stop investing.

It is one of the only ways that has been proven to fight inflation.”

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