The Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its monthly inflation data on Wednesday, letting shoppers everywhere know where their money went last month.
Overall, the picture looked pretty good. On average, consumers paid 0.2% more for everything from blue jeans to textbooks. If a big portion of your spending falls into a couple of categories, however, you might be feeling more of a pinch.
First, the good news. We spent less on gasoline, as prices at the pump fell 3% in January -- definitely a boon for anyone carting the kids around in the minivan all weekend.
For some people, it also got cheaper to heat their homes. The cost of fuel oil dropped 5.6%, and the cost of natural gas declined 3%. Unfortunately, you may see little change in your total utility bills. The price of electricity, water, sewer, and trash collection went up.
The bad news contained in this report shows that in certain categories, which may already constitute a significant portion of many household budgets, costs climbed.
Wondering why your grocery bills have been creeping skyward? Food prices saw their biggest increase since spring of 2005. Food purchased for preparation at home went up almost 1%. (Food purchased and eaten away from home got only a little more expensive, seeing a 0.5% increase.)
You may have noticed the hikes when you were buying fresh fruits and vegetables, up 1.5% and 1.9% respectively. Milk, cheese, and ice cream got more expensive, as dairy products overall went up 1.3%. Peruse your grocery store's meat case, and you might have noticed hikes in meat and poultry but especially fish, up 1.4%.
Shopping for a new car? You'll find prices virtually unchanged in the last few months. If you're getting an early start planning the family's summer vacation, though, you might have noticed airline tickets getting increasingly costly. They went up 2.1% in January.
Lastly, a category that accounts for ever more money in many households took a huge jump last month. Medical care costs went up 0.8%, the biggest gain in more than 15 years. Overall, those costs stand 4.3% higher than a year ago.
You'll feel the increase in all aspects of medical care, from prescription drugs and nonprescription drugs to doctors' services and hospital care.
What can you do to combat the forces of inflation? Depending on how you spend your money, you may not have to do much. Declines in certain categories may offset your increased spending for other needs, leaving you just about where you started.
If you're feeding a bunch of hungry children, or if you've been watching your medical and prescription drug needs increase lately, you may need to do some compensating of your own. First, determine whether you're spending more because prices have gone up, or because you're consuming more. (Take a look at those grocery receipts for telltale evidence that you've strayed from your shopping list and loaded up on nacho cheese chips and chocolate chip cookies.)
Then take a look at some of these other Foolish articles for ideas to cut your grocery, medical, and travel bills:
- Cut Your Grocery Bills
- Grocery Bill Creep
- 9 Ways to Cut Health Costs
- Fight for Your Rights: Health Insurance Claims
- 50 Simple Tips for Big Savings
- 5 Tips for a Foolish Trip