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Wall Street traders and economic analysts cheered a fractional slowing in the increase of consumer prices this week. Read that again: a slowing in the increase. Fractional. So prices are rising, just not as fast. Barely.
Once again, the Federal Reserve kicked interest rates up — this time by half a percentage point — in an effort to tamp down the rise in consumer costs. And so the inflation battle continues. It’s a long game.
And even when inflation moderates, some consumer costs could still rapidly rise due to circumstances beyond government control and not related to consumer demand or supply chains.
Higher prices due to storms and crime
Utility rates will be among them, especially for those living in states battered by natural disasters. In over a half-dozen states, consumers are shouldering a growing percentage of the costs to pay off loans to rebuild energy infrastructure due to damage caused by severe weather, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal.
The higher utility bills due to debt payback could last for years.
Meanwhile, big box retailers are warning that consumers could face rising costs due to a “historically” high wave of shoplifting. While some retailers may be seeking cover for additional price hikes, the National Retail Federation reports that retailers, on average, saw a 26.5% increase in organized retail crime incidents in 2021. “Inventory shrink” is a nearly $100 billion issue for the industry, the NRF said.
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told CNBC that the problem is so bad that prices will rise, and some stores may have to close because of the crime. In its latest earnings call, Target reported a 50% increase in shoplifting year over year and said organized retail theft has caused a $400 million hit to the company’s gross profit. Home Depot and Apple (where a daring daylight merchandise grab by a couple of thieves recently occurred) have also reported a rash of shoplifting.
Remember, even if inflation is lowered to the Fed’s target of 2%, overall prices will still be rising. (Zero inflation is a monetary policy goal debated by economists.)
The best financial defense against higher costs — no matter their cause — is a personal budget where you can monitor and adjust your spending as needed.
Boost your savings in 2023
Here is a mostly painless way to significantly increase your long-term savings: If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, increase your salary deferral, even just a little bit. “Mostly painless” because the money comes out before you get your paycheck.
Your employer may match your contribution — and if so, bumping up your deferral to get the maximum that your employer will kick in is an even more powerful move.
Even if you’re already getting the full employer match, raising your contribution will work to your advantage over time. Some plans offer an option to automatically raise your contribution by a set amount annually. That’s an excellent way to automate your regular savings increase.
If you don’t have a 401(k), start — or increase your savings in — an IRA. Next year, you’ll be able to save more than ever because the IRS has announced new annual contribution limits on all retirement accounts for 2023. And there are retirement accounts for self-employed savers, too.
Before pumping up your long-term savings, some considerations:
- If you have high-interest credit card debt, work to pay that off first.
- If you don’t have an emergency fund or tapped it recently, take care of that before adding to long-term savings.
- If you’re getting close to life after work and have all of these bases already covered, consider padding your taxable accounts with cash for additional savings and investments.
Look into setting up recurring contributions to any of these tasks before the end of the year so that they are automatically implemented regularly.
Ticketmaster may need to rebrand as Ticketmaybe.
Last month’s Taylor Swift concert presale fail saw the Ticketmaster site crash from “unprecedented” demand. This week, another glitch is being blamed for selling an “unprecedented” number of fake tickets to a Bad Bunny show in Mexico City.
Ricardo Sheffield, head of Mexico’s consumer protection agency, says the tickets weren’t fake at all but the result of Ticketmaster overselling the venue, according to The Washington Post.
At least one lawsuit has been filed in the Swift slip; another is said to be coming in the Bunny bungle. Mexico is levying a fine on Ticketmaster, and a U.S. Senate antitrust committee will hold a hearing on the lack of competition in the event ticketing industry.
Ticketmaster and then-competitor Live Nation merged in 2010.
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