The cost of living in the U.S. continued to soar in October as Americans paid more for essentials — including rent, gas, groceries and cars — and inflation hit a near-31-year high.
The Consumer Price Index released Wednesday showed inflation jumped to 6.2% last month, up from 5.4% in September and more than three times the Fed’s goal of a 2% rate.
“Inflation hurts Americans’ pocketbooks, and reversing this trend is a top priority for me,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Wednesday.
But economists predict high inflation will continue into early 2022 as supply-chain pressures and labor shortages are unlikely to resolve soon.
“Even if inflation were to moderate next year, we’ve still seen about three years worth of price increases in the last 12 months,” Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, said. So even if inflation falls to around 2% next year, he continued, “consumers are still going to be paying prices they otherwise might not have seen till 2025.”
With that in mind, here are some tips from McBride about how you can free up some cash for those higher prices and find ways to cut costs.
Homeowners can refinance their mortgages. Mortgage rates are still low; the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.98% for the week ending Nov. 10. “What better way to free up $150 or $200 a month to absorb the higher costs we’re all feeling?” McBride said. Keep in mind, however, that refinancing can come with some upfront costs.
Sign up for a health care flexible spending plan. It’s open enrollment season, so now’s the perfect time to change your health plan and sign up for a flexible spending account to cover medical costs. “This allows you to pay those [health care] expenses in 2022 with pre-tax dollars,” McBride said. This money can pay for everything from trips to the doctor to basic supplies like sunscreen.
Have a stash of gift cards lying around? Now is the time to use them. “The thing about inflation is your costs are going up every month, but you may only get one or two pay raises a year,” McBride said. Using old gift cards means you’re paying less money out of pocket for essential purchases.
Good old-fashioned coupons and sales can help a lot, too, especially if you can combine a sale and a coupon, McBride said. Stock up on non-perishable items, too, he added. “It’s not going to get cheaper,” he said, so buy it now or when it’s on sale.
Sign up for loyalty programs. A lot of retailers, like supermarkets, have loyalty programs that offer special discounts or rewards points.
Use an online shopping portal that offers discounts or cash back. You can make your dollar go even further, McBride said, by using portals like Rakuten — an app and browser extension that offers cash back when you make purchases through its platform, and helps consumers find discounts and deals.
“As higher costs come along throughout the year, you’re constantly having to shift money from one spending category to another, and having gift cards or cash-back rewards and loyalty points that you can use to defray out of pocket expenses might give you the cushion you need in a given month,” McBride said.
Another way to stretch your dollar is to negotiate down the price of what you’re buying. Keep in mind that pretty much everything is negotiable, said Jeff Cochran, partner at Shapiro Negotiations Institute, which trains business people on negotiation skills.
“Right now, we have to remember, we’re not the only ones in a pinch,” Cochran told MarketWatch. “Are there deals that we can seek out recognizing that in these tough times that, sure, they’re tough for us, [but] they’re tough for the sellers as well?”
Cochran offered tips on how to get the best price for anything from hotel rooms to cars to bread at the grocery store.
Build rapport. Don’t make the mistake of jumping into business right off the bat, Cochran said. If you can build a little rapport and get the salesperson on your side, then you have someone who’s advocating for you.
Don’t be afraid to ask about discounts or incentives that are available. “Again, the person on the other side wants to help you. They just need it to be easy to help you,” Cochran said. One way to do that is to just ask about discounts or incentives. Maybe the person booking your hotel room told you the rate, but forgot to mention that AAA members incentive, he said.
How would you know about those discounts? By doing your research, of course. The key to a good negotiation is always research, Cochran said, but even more so in these times. If you know when the big-box grocery store rotates inventory, that could be a good time to look for deals.
You don’t always have to play hardball, and using certain phrases can help a negotiation, especially if it’s an area where people don’t typically negotiate, Cochran said. Using the phrase, “Is that the best you can do?” is a softer approach that might get you an unexpected deal, he said.
Be prepared to compromise. You might not always get the price down, but maybe you could get a couple freebies thrown in. If you’re renting a car, Cochran said, maybe you can’t get the daily rate down, but you can get a free tank of gas or unlimited mileage — “things that they can extend to you that have tremendous value to you, but monetarily cost them very little.”