Mary Chao, the columnist for the Democrat & Chronicle, is the undisputed local queen of bargains. I would never try to upstage her, but I am always talking about my trips up and down Jefferson Road in Henrietta, and I just have to say they are getting even better recently. If you are looking to get good value for your hard-earned dollars on the everyday day things we all buy, it is a great trip to make. I do it every week. Within miles, there is a BJ’s, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Ollie’s, Aldi, Price Rite, Big Lots, Target, and more. This week returning from a CARE presentation, I filled up on $2.13 a gallon regular gasoline at BJ’s; purchased 2 pounds of frozen tilapia fillets at Aldi for $4.99, down from $5.29; purchased three (for $3) 2-liter bottles of Diet Pepsi; and picked up two $7.99 fish frys (the proper Western New York spelling) at Tops with my Bonus Card.
Speaking of great prices, I have been noticing lower prices at the grocery stores lately. If you are a smart shopper, you, no doubt, have noticed it too. It really hit me that something was going on when I looked at the Aldi flyer in my Sunday newspaper two weeks ago. Aldi has really good prices to begin with, but the flyer was loaded with items that were shown as “was” prices, and “now” reduced prices, like those tilapia fillets.
Then I saw a recent article in USA Today, titled “Supermarkets are losing the Grocery Price War.” Perhaps you saw it. It even had quotes from Wegmans, with some examples of its price markdowns on 40 key items, including an 18-ounce jar of peanut butter for $1.49, down from $1.99.
The article reported that grocery prices went down 1.3 percent last year, which was the first annual decline since 1967 — I was still in college then — in large part because of competition. It was interesting to me that several of the big grocery chain representatives referred to this as “price deflation.” Deflation is generally defined as a reduction of the general level of prices in an economy, not the prices in a specific sector of an economy, but I get it. It sounds good.
I am not necessarily recommending it, but I know that, given this “grocery war” and this “price deflation,” if my parents, who went through the Depression, were still alive, they would be stocking up on non-perishable, long-shelf-life groceries.
On the other hand, the opposite of deflation, which is inflation, where prices and the cost of living increase, is always a big topic of conversation these days. That is especially true when it comes to the costs of college and automobiles.
Recently on one of those “investments” radio shows, I heard a statement that didn’t seem right, so I wondered if I had just heard it wrong. I thought I heard that college graduates today are making what high school graduates earned in 1983. When I did some research, I was surprised to find a 2014 article in slate.com, citing reports from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which indicated that, in fact, the bottom 25 percent of bachelor’s degree holders were making roughly what the average high school graduate made in 1983.
That got me into the whole area of inflation, the costs of goods and services adjusted for inflation, and the actual cost of goods and services, which can be very scary in cases where those costs exceed the rate of inflation. It is in those areas, where prices exceed inflation, that we hear so much talk about flat salaries, are people “keeping up,” and will children and grandchildren do as well as their parents.
Here are some interesting things that I found. I couldn’t find statistics for 1983, but I did find that you would need $289.78 today to purchase what you could for $100 in 1980.
As for a “sticker shock” item, I purchased my first Volvo for $3,400 in 1970, when I was a Corporal in the United States Marine Corp. A comparable 2016 S60 Volvo is about $34,000, ten times more expensive.
Here, according to mybudget360.com, are the average costs of some goods and services where prices in 2015 significantly exceeded those in 1975, adjusted for inflation. A new house in 1975 cost $48,000; should cost $208,417 in 2015, adjusted for inflation; but costs $270,200. A new car at $3,800 (1975) should be $16,578, but costs $31,252. A private college ($3,776 in 1975), should be $16,475, but costs $42,419. A public college — $1,819, should be $7,938, but costs $18,943.
Are you and your family keeping up? If not, is it because salaries for your career are not keeping up, or is it because you are not managing your money as well as you need to in order to deal with today’s economic realities, like the above examples? By the way, there are any number of other examples where prices are lower than they should be, adjusted for inflation. The problem is that those are not the “big ticket items.” They are things like movie tickets, believe it or not.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo