Everywhere you look, prices are rising. It seems that everything you buy keeps going up in cost. How is the consumer supposed to keep up with all of the rising costs? I jokingly ask colleagues what we need to do to try to get ahead, even though I am very serious about it. Do we need to sell our souls to make money? On an ethical and moral level, I definitely cannot do that and be able to sleep at night. Therefore, how can the average Joe or Jane get ahead in today’s economy? These are definitely challenging questions and even more difficult to answer.
When I look around, and in my everyday experience, I read about inflation, rising prices, increasing interest rates, etc., etc. Reports are that inflation keeps holding steady, but I don’t really see that. It seems to me that – in my area – it keeps rising. It is not holding steady and it is definitely not decreasing. When I go to Kohl’s to buy a plain old T-shirt that should not sell for more than $5 and is not even worth $3, but the price is marked $9.99, that is inflation. When I go to WalMart and price a party bag of chocolates that used to sell for $9.98, and is now marked at $13.98, that is inflation. When a customer service agent with AT&T tells me that my Internet price will remain steady at $69.99, but then, one month later, another $5 gets tagged on, that is inflation. Inflation is not holding steady.
I have also seen the rise in prices for services. In the past six months, I have experienced price hikes in several different services. My dog groomer’s price went up by $5; my son’s college math tutor’s rate increased by $5; and my hair salon is now charging $5 more for a haircut. My favorite Chinese restaurant is charging about $2.50 more per meal, making my previous bill for two increase from $20 to $25. What about health-related services? My dentist’s charge for an oral evaluation of my teeth increased by about $25 this year. And, my health insurance company did away with the plan that I liked, and replaced it with a plan requiring both a higher co-pay and deductible. And, these are only a few of the services that I have experienced an increase in pricing. Where will it end? When will it stop? Unfortunately, the answer is ‘never.’
I remember when my parents used to talk about going out to the ice cream parlor and soda fountain in their youth and paying 25 cents for an ice cream cone, and maybe a little bit more for a banana split. Today, you can’t go to Dairy Queen or Bruster’s and get out of there without paying at least $5 for a Blizzard or waffle cone. The last time I took my son out for ice cream, I told him that we could’ve bought two pails of ice cream at Kroger’s for what I had just paid for two cones. And, as I write this, I wonder how people can go to places like Starbucks, daily, for coffee that tastes great, but is super expensive.
The concern about the rising cost of everything doesn’t even begin to address the decreased quality of everything, as well. The cute Bob’s doggie sneakers that I bought from Rack Room Shoes last year already have holes in the sides where they came apart from the soles. I don’t overwear them and I don’t abuse them – they just came apart. It is not worth taking them to the shoe repair or upholstery shop to fix them because it will likely cost just as much to sew them up as to buy another pair of shoes. Normally, I wouldn’t buy the same kind of item again, especially after a similar item came apart, but because they are so cute, I gave in and put down another $40 for a new pair. Each sneaker is a piece of canvas sewn onto a piece of rubber; they aren’t even worth $40 at all.
On a different scale, during the winter, I was house-hunting for a high-quality home that would’ve been smaller than my current residence. I searched approximately 300 homes in my area – either online or in-person – and didn’t find one that I was satisfied with – not one! This relates back to the lesser quality of things, not to mention the high prices. Around the Atlanta area, I searched for homes up to and including those that were priced at half a million bucks, and found that the quality of my own home surpassed all of them! And so, I took my home off the market and have decided to stay put for now. I am thrilled with my home, but wish I could find others of similar or higher quality out there that I would be happy with.
Thankfully, to help pay for the rising cost of everything, my teaching salary increased by about $2,000 this year, and will go up by about the same amount next year – and I have a job! Obviously, that is the most important thing. But, just when I think I’m catching up, all it takes is for my 20 year old car to break down and I’m back in the hole again, paying for repairs that typically cost $1,500 to $3,500 each time. Of course, this is easier to take than making payments on a new vehicle, but there also comes a limit on how much to keep pouring into an older vehicle and wonder if it is still worthwhile.
That brings me back to asking how is the average person supposed to make it in today’s challenging financial environment? You know you’re alive when you have bills to pay. But, I am not rich. I have to work. Sometimes, I feel like I will have to work until I die and will never be able to retire. Even if I do retire, I wonder how much of an impact the retirement money I have saved will support me when the rising costs of everything keep going up and continue eating it away. I think, therefore, that one must spend less and save more. However, I wonder how many people can truly do that in today’s world where it is so difficult to get ahead.