Americans are experiencing a time of “Aha” inflation.

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Americans are experiencing a time of “Aha” inflation.

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The highest inflation of the past four decades became real for Matthew Rivera when he ordered a plate of chicken wings at a restaurant in the Catskill Mountains last month. He normally pays $ 8-10, and this time it was $ 20. The old lower price has been crossed out on the menu.

“’Inflation’” was the waitress’s explanation, she said. She ordered wings for her children but pledged not to do it again. “It wasn’t worth it.”

Inflation has been a fixture in the news headlines for months as prices for food, utilities and energy have soared. Many people claim escalations are hitting right now in their daily lives. For some, it is an adhesive shock when filling the pump. For others, it’s the highest price of their morning coffee at Starbucks,

or the cost of strawberries at the local grocery store.

Other similar moments are likely in the coming weeks. Cost pressures are expected to increase as the West responds to the Ukrainian crisis with sanctions against Moscow and a new pandemic bloc in China, further undermining global supply chains. The Department of Labor recently reported that the February Consumer Price Index, a monthly measure of the cost of various goods and services, reached its highest level since 1982. On Thursday, the Federal Reserve said it would fight the inflation by raising interest rates for the first time since 2018.

“A lot of people have heard in the media for some time now: ‘Oh, inflation, inflation,'” said Charlotte Geletka, managing partner and owner of Silver Penny Financial, a financial advisory firm in Atlanta. “But they didn’t have the ‘Aha!’ moment until you get to something that affects their daily life “.

Some people feel the effects of inflation in the supermarket.


Photo:

Kristen Norman for the Wall Street Journal

Many are having that experience while filling their gas tanks, opening a bill, or looking for a place to live. The national average price of gasoline has recently risen above $ 4, reaching its highest point since July 2008. Electricity bills increased by more than 4% in 2021 and increased again this year, sparking complaints on social networks like Nextdoor. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment has increased nearly 25% year-over-year, according to the latest report from Rent.com. The costs of home loans also increase; The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage exceeded 4% for the first time since May 2019, Freddie Mac said Thursday.

People expect their purchasing power to weaken further, according to a measure of consumer confidence from the University of Michigan that fell to its lowest level in a decade last month. For Americans under 40, this is the highest inflation they have seen in their lives.

Alyssa Susnjara, a 27-year-old from San Diegan who works in education communications, had one of her “aha” moments while getting gas. Weekend trips for the avid snowboarder now cost her more than $ 80 in gasoline compared to $ 44 in previous months, too after searching for cheaper deals at various resorts.

“I’m the girl who drives with the fumes,” she said of a recent trip to the pump. “She broke my heart a little bit.”

She also came face to face with inflation while looking for a new apartment. She and her boyfriend were looking for a larger two-bedroom unit in the San Diego area because they both work remotely and wanted an extra room for a home office. But Ms. Susnjara said the units she once expected to rent for $ 2,300 or $ 2,400 a month now go as high as $ 2,700. They decided to stay with their one bedroom apartment.

“It’s a whiplash effect for many renters,” he said.

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In Chicago, the moment inflation became a reality for 35-year-old Emily Achler was when she noticed higher prices at the grocery store and then at Starbucks, where she said her usual – a triple 2% cappuccino – reached $ 6. It was closer to $ 4, he said. Ms. Achler has since cut back on her visits to the cafe.

She and her partner are used to reducing household expenses. They did so in 2020 when they gave up full-time salaries to launch the startup business Italic Type, a digital reading platform. Now they are doing it again.

“The stage we are in today is asking ourselves, ‘Do we need xyz right now? But no?’ “she said.” Most of the time, the answer is, ‘No, I don’t need three cappuccinos a week.’ ”

For Lani Assaf, a 25-year-old marketing clerk living in Brooklyn, her breakthrough in inflation happened in Trader Joe’s checkout line.

“I don’t buy strawberries anymore,” he said. The price has jumped nearly $ 1 in the past six months, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, from about $ 2 per pint of fresh strawberries to more than $ 3 for the same amount. “I’m sticking to bananas. It’s always been 19 cents at Trader Joe’s.

Ms. Assaf traded fresh fruit for frozen fruit in her usual morning smoothie and paid more attention to the prices of other items in her shopping cart.

“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s 40 cents or 50 cents,” he said. “Then in the end, you’re buying all these things and they add up and you notice.”

Russia’s attack on Ukraine helped push the price of oil to over $ 100 a barrel for the first time since 2014. Here’s how rising oil costs could further increase inflation in the US economy. Photo illustration: Todd Johnson

Inflation intrudes on everyday life not just for people under 40. The moment it became a serious matter in the life of Deb Schaffer, the 63-year-old owner of Enchanted Botanicals in Lovettsville, Virginia, was the day she noticed that the price of a soy wax she uses for its candles had nearly doubled.

A 45-pound box now costs $ 90, he said, compared to the $ 48 he paid for a slightly heavier 50-pound box. Her shop sells candles, soaps, and incense.

Deb Schaffer, the owner of Enchanted Botanicals in Lovettsville, Virginia, noticed that the price of a soy wax had doubled.


Photo:

David Schaffer

He said he now plays “Budget Tetris” as he looks for offers on cans, bulk purchases, and the ability to move more products so you don’t have to raise prices. When she sees a deal or a package, she goes for the purchase even if it means crowding her candle studio with packages and boxes.

“It’s a difficult game to play,” he said.

Jeff Fugate, the 53-year-old owner of Empty Bowl Queso in Leesburg, Virginia, is making a similar bet as he struggles with rising prices on the items he needs to make his Hatch New Mexico green chili queso, since vegetable cheese to the package. But Mr. Fugate can only buy so much in bulk, as his fresh ingredients spoil.

Due to inflation, he decided to make sacrifices in his personal life by cutting cable channels and forgoing his family’s subscriptions in Washington Capitals. His family budget has been under the microscope since 2020, when he was fired from a job and then started his new business.

Jeff Fugate, the owner of Empty Bowl Queso in Leesburg, Virginia, forgoes his family’s subscriptions to the Washington Capitals while cutting expenses.


Photo:

Jeff Fugate

He said he knows he will have to pass the costs on to customers with a price increase. Companies buying his queso to sell are currently asking their customers to pay between $ 9 and $ 11 a pint, which Mr. Fugate says already makes it a splurge for many buyers.

He told a customer how difficult it was to opt out of his subscriptions. The client offered to exchange questions for hockey tickets, which he did.

“You have to do what you have to do,” he said.

Write to Julia Carpenter at Julia.Carpenter@wsj.com

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