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Prices for meats, poultry, fish and eggs rose 2.2 percent in September from the month before. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Like a guest who overstays his welcome, inflation is getting on our nerves. For people with enough income or savings, rising prices are just an annoyance. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, inflation means a much harder time paying for food, gas and other items. It could mean skipped meals or late rental payments.
The latest inflation data, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showed prices increasing 9.1 percent over the same period a year ago. Increases in prices for housing and energy — fuel, oil, gasoline, and electricity — were the largest contributors to the uptick. The higher cost of food also drove inflation.
“Inflation has been a surprising and unwelcome guest seeming to persist at an elevated level at a time when we’re all hoping to put the devastating economic impacts of the pandemic behind,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate. “Like the pandemic-caused downturn itself, it exacerbates wealth and income inequality. The wealthy can adjust. Those on lower incomes, not so much. It is as if some people just can’t catch a much-needed break.”
Predictions last year that rising prices might be temporary were wrong. So, until things stabilize, here’s how to handle increases in consumer prices.
What changes should I make to my budget to beat inflation?
Coping with inflation comes down to reviewing how you spend your money. Even if you’ve cut until it hurts, you’re going to have to look for additional trims.For instance, could you take in a roommate or move in with someone to reduce your housing costs?
Obvious places to cut are eating out, streaming services and unnecessary car trips. When was the last time you looked at your mobile plan?Use apps and the Internet to find lower prices, including for gasoline.
“When prices aren’t changing all that much, people may be inclined to invest less of their time shopping, thinking that it might not make all that much of a difference,” Hamrick said. “Think of shopping right now as investing time to find better deals.”
Supply-chain disruptions continue to push consumer prices up. One way to cope is to put off unnecessary purchases until supply issues are resolved and prices go down. “Whether it’s an updated iPhone or another piece of clothing to mostly hang in the closet, most Americans simply consume more than they need to,” Hamrick said.
Is there anything I can do to reduce my food costs?
In an inflationary environment, substitutions can be your financial friend.
Food prices have been rising largely because of weather-related shortages, transportation issues and lack of staffing. Meat and fish prices are going up fasterthan vegetable prices, so take that into consideration in your at-home meal planning.Hamrick said he went shopping to make crab cakes and saw that the price for crabmeat was up 50 percent.
“I bought chicken thighs and cooked them at a fraction of the price,” he said. “Now’s the time to try to spend time when possible preparing meals at home, using lower-cost items as much as possible.”
Inflation doesn’t really change what you should have been doing all along, which is diversifying, said Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner who founded the fee-only Life Planning Partners, based in Jacksonville, Fla.
“Through thick and thin, the best way to prepare for any economic environment is to have a diversified portfolio,” McClanahan said. “If you aren’t already practicing diversification, now is the time to make that change.”
If you’re an ultraconservative saver who has shied away from stocks because you’re scared of the stock market, you might want to consider that inflation is also a risk. If you don’t at least keep pace with inflation, you’re losing the purchasing power of your money.
“Where interest rates are right now, investors need to take on slightly more risk to get a return that may beat inflation,” said Ben Bakkum, quantitative investing associate at the digital adviser firm Betterment.
Is there anything I can do to take advantage of inflation?
If you have some cash that you don’t think you’ll need for a while, consider purchasing bonds, McClanahan recommends.Inflation-indexed Series I savings bonds, which are issued by the Treasury Department, allow investors to earn a combination of a fixed interest rate and the rate of inflation, adjusted semiannually.
The composite rate for I bonds issued fromMay through the end of Oct.is now 9.62 percent, a portion of which is indexed to inflation every six months. To buy and own an electronic I bond, you must establish a TreasuryDirect account. Go to treasurydirect.gov.
If you receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits, you’ll see your payments go up because of rising consumer prices. The Social Security Administration announced a 5.9 percent benefit increase for 2022.
And, if inflation relents next year, which some believe is possible as supply chains normalize, Social Security recipients will continue to get the higher payments anyway, Hamrick said.
Additionally, one of the few potentially beneficial effects of inflation will be that the Federal Reserve may well lift benchmark rates sooner rather than later, and more than previously believed, he said. That’s welcome news for savers. “Previously miserly returns on savings should begin to rise,” Hamrick said.
It’s hard not to panic about inflation when your paycheck doesn’t go as far as you need. Still, keep things in perspective. It’s not the 1970s, when prices skyrocketed. “Recent headlines about increasing inflation have been alarming, but inflation itself is not abnormal if it’s not out of control,” Bakkum said.
Worried man reading bad news in paper letter document feels disappointed, stressed ..getty
Fall is a time of leaves changing colors, children going back to school, families enjoying Thanksgiving dinners, and… open enrollment. Yes, it’s the opportunity for most employees to select which benefits they will choose for the following year. Here are some of the most common mistakes we see people make:
Not fully understanding the value of an HSA-eligible health insurance plan.
HSA-eligible high deductible health plans tend to come with lower premiums (what you pay per month or paycheck for your coverage) but higher deductibles (what you pay out-of-pocket before most of the insurance benefits kick in) than more standard health insurance plans. In addition, they make you eligible to contribute pre-tax dollars (for 2023, up to $3,850 for individual coverage or $7,750 for family coverage plus $1,000 if you’re turning 55+) to an HSA (health savings account) that can be used tax-free for qualified medical expenses at any time.
While it’s easy to compare the difference in premiums and deductibles, don’t forget to factor in the value of the HSA. First, many employers will actually make contributions to your HSA for you. That’s free money! If you contribute on top of that, you also get a break on your taxes (including FICA if you contribute from your paycheck).
For example, I spoke with an employee who would save almost $1,900 a year in premiums by choosing the high deductible health plan. In addition, he would receive $1,000 in his HSA from his employer and would save almost another $2,000 in taxes by contributing another $6,000 to the HSA. The $4,900 in total savings dwarfed the difference in deductibles.
Under or over funding an FSA.
FSAs (flexible spending accounts) let you put money away pre-tax that can be used tax-free for health (up to $3,050 per person next year) or dependent care (up to $5,000 per family next year) expenses. If you’re in the 24% tax bracket, that’s like getting a 24% discount on those eligible expenses! Not taking full advantage of these accounts could cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in lost tax breaks.
However, there is a catch. Unlike HSAs, FSAs are mostly “use it or lose it” so you don’t want to contribute more than what you’re pretty sure you can spend. (Having a general health care FSA also precludes you from contributing to the more valuable HSA in the same year.) If you do end up with extra money in the account at the end of the year, try to use it by stocking up on qualified supplies like contact lenses and prescription drugs. You can find FSA-eligible items here.
Not taking advantage of a prepaid legal plan.
Do you have updated estate planning documents like a will, durable power of attorney, advance health care directive, and living trust? If not, you can save a lot of money by using your employer’s prepaid legal service to have these documents drafted or updated. You pay a fee per paycheck, but the legal services are free or heavily discounted. You can then choose not to renew it the following year after you’ve gotten your documents in place.
Ignoring disability insurance.
Disability insurance is often overlooked even though about 25% of 20-yr olds are likely to be out of work for at least a year due to a disability before they reach normal retirement age. If your employer doesn’t provide it, you may want to purchase it. The good news is that employee-paid disability benefits are tax-free.
Not having enough life insurance.
Your employer may offer you life insurance coverage equal to one or more times your salary, but you may want to purchase supplemental life insurance if you have dependents. You can use this calculator to estimate how much you need. Then compare the cost of purchasing it through your employer with the cost of a term policy in the individual market. (See if your coverage at work can be converted to an individual policy once you leave the job.)
Your benefits can be a significant part of your total compensation and open enrollment can be your only chance to take full advantage of many of them. When in doubt about your selection of benefits, find out if your employer offers a financial wellness program with free guidance and coaching from unbiased financial planners who are trained on your particular benefits. Then go and enjoy the holidays knowing that your family is protected.
LGBTQ rights have come a long way in the U.S. But the community still faces threats in the form of legalization, discrimination and even violence.
Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
After Lisa Smith, 60, was rejected for a Paycheck Protection Program loan that would have helped pay the utility bills at her business, she decidedto sell her house and move into the back storeroom of Compass Tea Room. The business is the only designated safe space for LGBTQ people in the small mountain town of Luray, Virginia, Smith said.....Claire Thornton
Paycheck Protection Program loan applications included a section where businesses could report being woman-owned, minority-owned or veteran-owned. But the Small Business Administration, which administered PPP loans, did not include a section “for business owners to distinguish their businesses as LGBTQ-owned,” the SBA told USA TODAY in a statement.
“The lack of visibility of queer people really does mean that our concerns are overlooked,” said Spencer Watson, executive director of CLEAR. After 60 years of queer political activism, they said, “It’s time for our government institutions to wake up and realize that they need to support queer communities.”
Even if loan providers weren’t discriminating against businesses because of their LGBTQ ties, the percentage of businesses rejected for loans indicates underlying systemic economic discrimination, said Logan Casey, a policy researcher at MAP.
The report, published this summer, found a greater share of LGBTQ-owned small businesses (57%) applied for PPP loans during the pandemic, compared to non-LGBTQ-owned businesses (47%). But only 54% of LGBTQ-owned businesses got the funds they applied for, compared to 68% of non-LGBTQ-owned small businesses.
How Small Business Administration rule may ease LGBTQ biases in lending
In addition to being in poorer financial health, LGBTQ-owned small businesses were more likely to report they thought they were rejected for loans because “lenders do not approve financing for businesses like mine,” according to the report.
Historically, lenders have been prohibited from making loans to LGBTQ-related businesses, and that precedent is still affecting loan application decisions, Watson said. They pointed to a rule still on the books of the SBA that says businesses that get revenue from products or displays with a “prurient sexual nature” are not eligible for loans.
“You can imagine all these different scenarios where, if a person doesn’t approve of whatever it is, these broadly categorized and poorly defined restrictions give them a venue for covering the discrimination behind that decision,” Watson said.
If a loan provider is not familiar with LGBTQ culture or the LGBTQ community, they may also be less likely to grasp a business concept and more likely to reject a loan application, Watson said.
The Equality Act, passed by the House of Representatives in 2021, would enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in credit and banking. The bill’s future in the equally-divided Senate is uncertain, even a year after it passed the House.
How financial discrimination can become ‘a self-fulfilling prophecy’
When Lisa Smith, who owns Compass Tea Room in Luray, Virginia, was rejected in fall 2020 for a $2,500 PPP loan that would have helped pay utility bills, her best remaining option was to sell her home and move into the back storeroom of her business with her dog, Loki.
She was rejected by the SBA because she is her only employee and doesn’t have documentation of paychecks, she said. “Basically, my register is my ATM,” Smith said.
Money from the Paycheck Protection Program could have been used for “mortgage interest, rent, utilities, worker protection costs related to COVID-19, uninsured property damage costs caused by looting or vandalism during 2020, and certain supplier costs and expenses for operations,” according to the SBA‘s website.
“Sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed persons” were eligible for the loans, as well as bigger companies, according to the SBA. But experts told USA TODAY that people who didn’t have much experience getting their businesses financed before the pandemic were at a disadvantage.
So when Smith, who identifies as queer, dipped into personal funds to keep her business open, she became part of a larger trend.
“Economic insecurity at higher levels in our community to start with, that makes for businesses being on rockier footing to start with. And then continuing to face that discrimination in financing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Casey said.
LGBTQ-owned small businesses that participated in the Federal Reserve Banks’ survey said they thought they were rejected because they had profitability issues, poor credit ora lack of paycheck documentation – like Smith, according to the report.
In general, banks were more willing to lend to more established and profitable businesses, which perpetuates the financial shakiness of businesses in marginalized communities, Watson said.
Banks “trusted their large partners” during the pandemic, leading to many loans being given to “large businesses that didn’t really need it but were probably good bets,” Watson said.
That’s one reason why “we’re seeing that these smaller LGBTQ-owned businesses didn’t maybe get as much,” Watson said.
Businesses that were able to get PPP loans are still eligible to have the loans forgiven, according to the SBA. But LGBTQ-owned small businesses also fared worse than their non-LGBTQ counterparts on forgiveness.
The report from CLEAR and MAP found 78% of LGBTQ-owned businesses got full forgiveness for the loans, compared to 88% of non-LGBTQ-owned businesses.
Because they didn’t get the financial support “they were owed,” Watson said, “LGBTQ-owned businesses are going to recover much more slowly from the pandemic and continue to suffer scars from this period.”
Managing your money is obviously an important part of being a responsible adult. But how should you do that? It turns out that there’s a large gulf between the advice given by the authors of popular finance books and academic economists.
In a new study titled “Popular Personal Financial Advice versus the Professors,” the Yale financial economist James Choi rummages through 50 of the most popular books on personal finance to see how their tips square with traditional economic thinking. It’s like a cage match: Finance thinkfluencers vs economists dueling over what you should do with your money.
And, yes, Choi is an economist, but he may be a more impartial referee of this smackdown than you’d think. That’s because he’s a behavioral economist who doesn’t swallow the canon of old-school economics hook, line, and sinker. Traditional economic models portray humans as hyper-rational, disciplined creatures, who always make optimal financial choices for themselves. Behavioral economics, which has pretty much taken over the field, emphasizes that people are quirky, often irrational, and prone to errors.
In a way, Choi says, behavioral economists like him try to help people overcome their shortcomings and achieve their financial goals as if they were the savvy creatures of old-school theory. And so, he says, classic economic theory may still provide a good overall guide for how to maximize your financial well-being. But, Choi says, the advice of popular finance thinkfluencers, who tend to concentrate on helping us overcome our flaws and foibles, might actually be more effective in some cases.
So, who’s right in this financial royal rumble? The authors of self-help finance books or the stalwarts of traditional economic theory? While Choi doesn’t always provide definitive answers, this debate might spark some ideas on how you can more effectively handle your finances.
How Should You Save Money?
When it comes to saving money, many economists offer somewhat counterintuitive — and, dare I say, potentially irresponsible — advice: if you’re young and on a solid career track, you might consider spending more and saving less right now.
That’s because you’re likely going to earn a bigger paycheck when you’re older, and to really squeeze the enjoyment out of life, it might make sense to live a bit beyond your means at the moment and borrow from your future, richer self. Economists call this “consumption smoothing,” and it’s a feature of standard economic models of how rational people save and invest over their lifetime.
The idea, Choi says, is “you don’t want to be starving in one period and overindulged in the next. You want to smooth that over time.” The sort of ideal scenario: you start off adulthood saving little or nothing or even taking on debt, then you save a lot during your prime-age earning years, and then you spend those savings when you retire.
“I tell my MBA students, ‘You of all people should feel the least amount of guilt of having credit card debt, because your income is fairly low right now but it will be, predictably, fairly high in the very near future,'” Choi says. Once they start making money, he says, they should probably pay down that debt quickly since credit card companies charge high interest rates.
Reading through popular finance books, however, Choi finds that the vast majority of popular authors offer advice that contradicts this approach: throughout your life, the thinkfluencers say, your goal should be to live within your means and save a consistent percentage of your income. It doesn’t matter if you’re 20 or 30 or 50; they implore you to stash money away immediately and invest it for your future.
In arguing this, the thinkfluencers often cite the power of compound interest. The longer you save money, the more interest it accrues. As a result, wealth snowballs over time, so saving a large percentage earlier could make a lot of sense.
Of course, economists also recognize the power of compound interest. Where thinkfluencers and old-school economics really depart from each other, Choi says, is “the usefulness of establishing saving consistently as a discipline,” Choi says. This motivation, he says, “is almost always missing from economic models of optimal saving — [and is] a potentially important oversight.” In other words, some of us might need to adopt hard-and-fast saving rules at a young age to develop the discipline needed to lead more affluent lives, even if that’s less than optimal from a traditional economic perspective.
So who wins on this point? “I’m actually agnostic about it,” Choi says. “On the one hand, I do have a lot of sympathy for the view that you might be unnecessarily depriving yourself in your twenties and even thirties when, very predictably, your income will likely be much higher in later decades. That being said, I do think that there is something to this notion of being disciplined and learning to live within your means at a young age.”
How Should You Think About Your Budget?
In old-school economics, money is money. It’s fungible. There is no reason to put labels on it. Absent some financially advantageous reason to do so (like the ability to get subsidies or a lower tax rate), it doesn’t make sense to set aside savings for specific purposes, like a new car or a future vacation or a down payment on a house. A dollar is a dollar.
Of course, many people don’t think this way. They often do what behavioral economists call “mental accounting,” earmarking special money for this and that. “In more extreme versions of mental accounting, you cannot use the money that you’re saving for your Hawaii vacation for the down payment on your future house,” Choi says.
Choi finds that 17 of the 50 books he read through advocate for some sort of mental accounting exercise. And, he says, this advice might actually make sense. It makes financial calculations easier for people and may motivate them to accomplish their goals.
Should You Be “House Rich, Cash Poor”?
Many Americans live in enormous houses and are stretched thin paying for them. While their house is a valuable asset, and they’re technically pretty rich, they’re just squeaking by, living paycheck to paycheck. People generally refer to this as “house rich, cash poor.”
Choi says both popular financial advisers and most economists are pretty clear: don’t do this! Don’t buy a house you can’t really afford. That can be super stressful and potentially ruinous.
How Much Of Your Money Should Be In Stocks?
Choi says that popular advisors and economists also generally agree that when you’re young, you should invest most of your money in stocks and only a little bit in bonds. Moreover, Choi says, both camps agree that as you get older, you should get more conservative, rebalancing your portfolio away from stocks and more towards bonds because stocks are riskier than bonds. But, Choi says, while both of these groups advise people to do the same thing with their investments over time, their reasoning for doing so is very different.
Generally speaking, popular financial advisers say that, while stocks are risky in the short run, you should invest mostly in them when you’re young because they earn higher returns than bonds over the long run. “The popular belief is that the stock market is kind of guaranteed to go up if you just hold onto it for long enough,” Choi says. “Now, this is just not true. And you can see this in Italy and Japan. In Japan, the stock market still hasn’t recovered to the level it was back in 1989. So it’s not true that stocks will always win over the long run. Bad things can happen.”
But while popular authors may discount this risk over the long term, their advice recognizes that holding stocks is risky in the short term. That’s why they argue that, as you get closer to retirement, you should get out of stocks and go into bonds, which are generally less risky. A popular rule of thumb: 100 minus your age is the percentage of your portfolio that should be in stocks. The remainder should be in bonds. So if you’re 30, you should be 70 percent in stocks and 30 percent in bonds.
While economists agree that you should get more conservative over time with your financial portfolio, Choi says, their reasoning is more nuanced.
“For almost all working people, the major economic asset they have is their future wage income,” Choi says. In other words, think of your work skills (your “human capital”) as part of your financial portfolio. It’s like the biggest form of wealth you own, and it’s generally safer than stocks or even bonds. When you’re young, this safer form of wealth is a huge part of your portfolio, so you can balance it with risky stocks.
Sure the stock market might crash, but you still have the security of being able to earn money at your job for many more years. As you get closer to retirement, this safer asset, your labor, represents a much smaller part of your portfolio — and that makes it much more scary to be all-in on risky stocks. “That’s why you should become more conservative in your financial portfolio allocation over time,” Choi says.
Should You Care Whether Stocks Pay Dividends?
Choi says there are some popular financial books that advise people to buy stocks that pay dividends. For the uninitiated, dividends are checks that companies send to their shareholders typically every quarter. “There seems to be this fascination with generating ‘income’ from your investments,” Choi says.
Economists, generally speaking, think this is dumb. “If I need to spend some money from my wealth, I don’t need to wait for the company to send me a check,” Choi says. “I can just sell some shares and use the proceeds from that sale to finance my expenditure needs. And so there should be no reason why I prefer stocks that pay dividends versus stocks that don’t pay dividends. And in fact, dividends are tax-disadvantaged. So, a stock that pays dividends is going to put a bigger tax burden on you, all else equal, than a stock that doesn’t pay dividends.”
Choi is with Team Economist on this one.
Should You Invest In Foreign Stock Markets?
Economic theory stresses the importance of diversifying your investments. This, Choi says, is true of diversifying the countries you invest in, too. Theoretically, the more countries you invest in, the less risky your investment portfolio will be. Some countries will do well. Others will do poorly. “So economic theory would say you want a diversified portfolio that holds a bit of every country’s stock market in the world,” Choi says.
But people don’t do this. They exhibit what economists call “home bias.” The French are more likely to invest in French companies. The Japanese are more likely to invest in Japanese companies, and so on. This has long been a puzzle to economists. The answer may lie in the almost universal support for ‘investing at home’ among the thinkfluencers. “The striking thing about the popular authors is that they all recommend home-biased portfolios,” Choi says. Choi isn’t really sure whether this makes much sense. “It just seems to be a little bit of jingoism, where people just like the stocks that they are familiar with.”
Should You Invest In Actively Managed Funds or Passive Index Funds?
Actively managed funds are those where you pay an expert to pick and choose stocks for you. These fund managers charge big fees with the promise of higher returns. Index funds have nobody actively picking and choosing investments for you. These funds simply passively hold a small piece of each major company in the stock market, thereby earning the overall average market return.
Economists and thinkfluencers agree on this one, too. “Everybody basically says you should go with index funds,” Choi says. “The data are pretty compelling. On average, passive funds outperform actively managed funds.”
Choi’s Big Takeaway
So who wins? The thinkfluencers or the economists? Economists, Choi suggests, may know a lot about how people should act. But, as an empirically minded behavioral economist, Choi recognizes that people often don’t act this way. And that’s where he has a degree of sympathy for the popular authors. “Given that we have all these quirks and frailties, we might have to resort to strategies that are less than perfect.”
“I think of it in terms of diet,” Choi says. “The best diet is the one that you can stick to. Economic theory might be saying you need to be eating skinless chicken breasts and steamed vegetables for the rest of your life and nothing else. That’s going to be the best for your health. And, really, very few people will actually do that.” He certainly has that right.