As the post-COVID-19 inflation spike persists, it is abundantly clear that we are going to be contending with higher prices for longer than previously thought. As a result, it's time to dust off some inflation-fighting strategies that consumers used four decades ago.
Delay spending: Whether it's a new device, a much-desired wardrobe addition, a home renovation, or a family trip, delaying a purchase is the easiest way to avoid being slammed with higher prices.
Be flexible: As inflation soared in the 1970s, manufacturers introduced the concept of generic alternatives to brand names to reduce prices. In the early 1980s generic sales made up 2.4% of all grocery sales, according to Selling Areas Marketing Inc. Today, generics and private labels account for 19.5% of all units sold in 2020, according to the Private Label Manufacturers Association. If your favorite brand is not available or a bit too pricey, it's time to consider a generic brand.
Help the planet (and your bottom line): Sticker shock at the gas pump and with utility bills might prompt you to reduce driving (or go electric), better manage your thermostat or seal up those inefficient windows and doorways. Yes, the little things add up to a lot.
Boost your income: Workers have more power today than they have in two decades. That means it's time to ask the boss for more money, either in the form of a raise or perhaps a onetime bonus. If you don't want to leave, consider a side hustle.
Prepare for higher interest rates: The Federal Reserve has told us it will increase short-term rates, probably at the next meeting in March. That means you should try to lock in fixed-rate mortgages now. Don't worry if you missed the rock-bottom levels of the cycle, borrowing for the long term is still historically cheap. If you are refinancing, you may want to fold in home equity loans or credit card debts that are tied to variable, short-term interest rates.
Diversify your portfolio: The goal of every long-term investor is to grow your nest egg at a quicker pace than the rate of inflation, while keeping focused on the total risk level you are willing to assume. When inflation arrives, a diversified portfolio can help shield you from the corrosive nature of rising prices. Consider these asset classes for inclusion in your account.
- Commodities: When inflation rises, the price of commodities like gold and energy increases. However, this is a volatile asset class that flatlines over long stretches of time. Try to limit commodity exposure to 3% and 6% of the total portfolio value.
- Real estate investment trusts (called REITs): The ultimate "real asset," REITs tend to perform well during inflationary periods because of rising property values and rents.
- Stocks: Long-term data show that stocks, especially dividend-producing ones, tend to perform well in inflationary periods.
- Treasury Inflation Protected Securities: To help the investor dilemma of inflation eating into a bond's fixed-income return, the U.S. government introduced inflation-indexed bonds (called TIPS) in 1997 that are linked to the Consumer Price Index.
- I-Bonds: Issued through the U.S. Treasury, these savings vehicles provide an annual interest rate that is derived from a fixed rate and a semiannual inflation rate. For bonds issued November 2021 to April 2022, the total is a whopping 7.12%.
- There are a few caveats to consider the purchase of I-Bonds: maximum purchase per calendar year: $10,000 electronic bonds, $5,000 paper bonds; minimum term of ownership: one year; interest-earning period: 30 years or until you cash them, whichever comes first; early redemption penalties: before five years, forfeit interest from the previous three months.
Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News business analyst. She welcomes comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.