Taylor Schulte

Why does everything still feel expensive?

Published about 2 months ago • 2 min read

Hi Reader,

Inflation is mostly back under control, with the recent headline inflation reading coming in at 3.1%.

It may surprise you that the current reading is actually below the long-term average of 3.8% from 1960-2022.

In today's email:

If inflation is, in fact, back under control, why does everything still feel so expensive?

Before we dive in, did you catch this week's podcast episode?👇

4 Retirement Planning Misconceptions

Roger Whitney joins me to talk through 4 rarely-discussed retirement misconceptions. (Ex: Approaching retirement planning as a complicated problem vs. complex.)

Why Everything Still Feels So Expensive

Let's first address the question head-on:

The reason everything still feels so expensive is because everything is still expensive.

Yes, inflation has come down, but that doesn't mean prices have fallen.

On the contrary, prices remain high...they're just now rising at a more historically-normal rate.

As a simple example, a box of cereal that was priced at $4/box might now be $6/box.

The fact that inflation has slowed doesn't mean that same box of cereal will ever be $4 again.

That would be deflation, which seems unlikely for most of the things we buy.

It's unfortunate but true.

What's making these new prices even more difficult to digest is that, for the past couple of decades, we've grown accustomed to prices increasing by cents while recently, prices have risen by dollars.

That's very noticeable, and we feel it in our wallets.

There are other factors in play here as well. For example, companies are not likely to drop their prices to previous levels just because their input costs have decreased.

Instead, companies will likely attempt to use this pricing disparity to book temporarily higher profits.

Obviously, that's bad for consumers but good for the companies. It's probably also good for the people who work for said companies as they earn higher wages.

Is that good or bad?

I guess it depends on which side of the ledger you're on. The point is, it's complicated.

Beyond those situations, there are service-based goods that have their own unique inflationary pricing issues.

As one example, in economic areas where "tipping" was once considered an additional kindness, it's become an expectation causing prices that were already high to feel even higher.

I'm not debating the merits of that issue, just that it's now part of the cost structure that makes things that were already expensive feel even more so.

There are a few areas in which prices do decline over time (e.g., technology), but we tend to view those as optional luxuries.

On the other hand, grocery store prices make us feel like we're being raked over the coals, encouraging us to place the blame for this issue at somebody's feet.

Maybe rightfully so. But maybe not.

How much blame to assign here and to whom is debatable at best.

Not to rehash old news or offer excuses, but we endured the first global pandemic in a century, and our government—on both sides of the aisle—pulled out all the stops to prevent an economic meltdown.

Right move or wrong, it's just that the unfortunate cost of this once-in-a-century policy was a bout of inflation.

And if the '70s and '80s are our roadmap for the future, we shouldn't expect prices to revert to pre-COVID levels.

If they do, we may have other problems since deflation isn't necessarily good either.

Thus, I think the best we can hope for is that prices remain stable from here, thereby avoiding a second wave of inflation that would mirror the experience of the '80s.

While that may not be what anyone wants to hear, that's probably the best-case scenario.

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Stay wealthy,

Taylor Schulte, CFP®

Taylor Schulte

Retirement and tax planning plain English.

I'm the host of the Stay Wealthy Retirement Show and founder of Define Financial, an award-winning retirement and tax planning firm. When I’m not helping people lower their tax bill, you can find me traveling with my wife and kids, searching for the next best carne asada burrito, or trying to master Adam Scott’s golf swing.

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