September 13, 2023 | Allison Robertson

Decoding Inflation: What You Need to Know


Why You Need to Know About Inflation

Cash and shocked man looking at receipt

Understanding inflation is important for anyone living in todays economy. 

It's like knowing the forecast before planning a picnic. If you're aware that prices might go up in the future, you can make smarter decisions about saving, spending, and investing today. 

It helps you ensure that your money retains its buying power and that you're prepared for whatever the economic climate brings. Just as you'd bring an umbrella for predicted rain, knowing about inflation helps you stay financially prepared. 

Inflation directly influences the value of money, which in turn affects everything from the cost of daily essentials to the broader landscape of investments and savings. 

Ignoring the implications of inflation can lead to eroded purchasing power, missed investment opportunities, and inadequate savings for future goals or retirement. 

By grasping the intricacies of inflation, individuals can better position themselves to protect their wealth and capitalize on financial opportunities in an ever-evolving economic environment. 

1. What is Inflation? 

Infographic for inflationDeemerwha studio, Adobe Stock

Inflation is the rate at which the general level of prices for goods and services rises, causing purchasing power—the ability of money to buy goods and services—to fall. 

Essentially, when inflation rises, each dollar you own buys a smaller percentage of a good or service. The best way to understand inflation is to think of it as the decreasing value or purchasing power of money.

2. How is Inflation Calculated? 

Woman looking at utility billTeodor Lazarev, Adobe Stock

Simply put, in most countries, a central or reserve bank determines inflation rates by analyzing changes in the prices of a basket of goods and services over time.

In the U.S., inflation is most commonly gauged by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Producer Price Index (PPI). The CPI measures the average change in prices over time that urban consumers pay for a basket of goods and services, while the PPI measures the average change over time in selling prices received by domestic producers for their output. 

A rise in these indexes signifies inflation, whereas a fall indicates deflation.

3. Why is Inflation Bad? 

Woman looking at receiptwifesun, Adobe Stock

Inflation means that the average consumer has to spend more money to buy the same goods and services they did before. 

It's like having a shrinking wallet: even if the amount of money in it stays the same, what you can buy with that money decreases. 

Over time, if a person's income doesn't increase at the same rate as inflation, they might find it harder to afford everyday items, save money, or maintain their standard of living.

While moderate inflation is generally seen as a natural side effect of a growing economy, hyperinflation or very high and typically accelerating inflation can be problematic. Here's why:

Eroding Purchasing Power: The most immediate effect of inflation is that your money doesn’t go as far. If a 2% inflation rate persists, for instance, a loaf of bread that costs $1 this year will cost $1.02 the next year.

Uncertainty: Rapidly rising prices can lead businesses to postpone investments, making economic stagnation even worse.

Interest Rates: Central banks, like the Federal Reserve in the U.S., often raise interest rates to combat high inflation, which can make borrowing money more expensive.

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4. How Long Does It Last? 

Empty walletTowfiqu barbhuiya , Pexels

Inflation doesn't have a fixed duration; it can be short-lived or persist for years. 

Think of inflation as an unpredictable weather pattern—sometimes it's a brief rain shower, other times it's a long winter. 

To prepare, consumers should aim to increase their savings, reduce unnecessary expenses, and consider investments that historically perform well during inflationary periods. It's like keeping an umbrella handy; even if you hope it won't rain, it's better to be prepared.

Some bouts of inflation are transitory, often linked to temporary factors like oil price spikes. Others can be more persistent, particularly if caused by fundamental shifts in an economy.

In the U.S., there have been periods of high inflation, like the 1970s, followed by periods of lower inflation. The Federal Reserve aims for a 2% inflation rate over the long run as its target.

5. Who Suffers the Most from Inflation? 

A sad woman grocery shoppingDrazen, Adobe Stock

Inflation affects the prices of everyday goods and services that people buy. This can include items like groceries, gasoline, rent or mortgage payments, clothes, electronics, entertainment costs, medical care, and even the cost of education. As inflation rises, you might notice that you're paying more for these things than you used to.

The impacts of inflation are unevenly distributed, with some groups shouldering more of the burden:

Fixed-Income Earners: Those on a fixed income, such as retirees, can see their purchasing power diminish with rising inflation.

Savers: If the inflation rate surpasses the interest rate on savings, savers can lose purchasing power.

Lenders: If they offer loans at fixed interest rates, lenders can get paid back with money that's worth less than when they loaned it out.

6. Who Benefits from Inflation? 

Dumb parents factsShutterstock

Inflation isn't universally bad. Some groups might benefit:

Borrowers: If they've borrowed money at a fixed interest rate, inflation means they'll repay in dollars that are worth less than when they borrowed.

Owners of Tangible Assets: The value of tangible assets, like real estate or commodities, can increase with inflation, benefiting owners.

While inflation is a natural part of most economies, understanding its implications is crucial for both individual financial planning and broader economic policy-making. 

Being aware of how inflation works, its potential impacts, and the strategies to hedge against it can make a significant difference in one's financial well-being.


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