En español | If you're grumbling more than usual these days, it's probably because of rising prices. Gasoline now averages $3.17 a gallon, according to AAA, up from $2.20 a year ago. And the price of bacon has soared 8.4 percent the past 12 months, according to June inflation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Believe it or not, however, some items are getting cheaper. For example, you're paying a bit less for hamburger these days and for cheese, too, so go ahead and have that cheeseburger. Read on for more of what's getting cheaper in these inflationary times.
McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski is lovin’ it these days — at least the prices of some of the foods his company sells daily. The price of uncooked ground beef has fallen 8.4 percent the past 12 months, the price of cheese has inched down 0.9 percent and, if you want fries with that, the price of potatoes has tumbled 4.7 percent. (Adding bacon is going to cost you, however.)
Aside from hamburger, the BLS says beef roasts (down 2.4 percent), ham (-1.4 percent) and fresh whole chicken (-0.8 percent) have all gotten cheaper over the past 12 months.
Men's business attire
Most men don't dress up for Zoom meetings, so it's no surprise that the cost of men's suits, sport coats and outerwear has fallen 7 percent in the past 12 months. Men's shirts and sweaters have gotten 1.5 percent cheaper. (Women's suits have gained 2.7 percent the same period.)
If you're hoping to snap up some bargains before you have to work with your pants on, you'd better hurry. Retail sales are picking up, and employers are starting to get their workers back in the office. And you might want to try on that old suit before the first day of work. Just sayin'.
Health care prices typically increase faster than the general rate of inflation. In December 2019, for example, health care costs jumped 4.6 percent over the previous year, compared with 2.3 percent for the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the government's main gauge of inflation. The past 12 months, however, health care costs have been relatively tame, rising just 0.4 percent, the lowest one-year gain since 1941.
A few subsectors of health care have actually fallen. The BLS has a category called “medical care commodities” that includes everything from bandages to wheelchairs. It's down 2.2 percent the past 12 months. Within that category, the biggest price reductions were in medical equipment and supplies, down 6.3 percent. That category includes many items used during the pandemic, such as N95 masks, which were coveted — and expensive — in the first months of COVID-19. One Texas company at that time offered N95 masks at $6 apiece. The masks typically sold for about $1.
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Speakers today may be smaller than the monsters you probably listened to in college. But they are a whole lot cheaper: The price of audio equipment has fallen 71.3 percent since 1977, and 4.4 percent the past 12 months.
Of course, you can always spend a ton of money on audio equipment if you want to. But thanks to sophisticated electronics and advanced materials, newer speakers are clearer, louder and punchier on the bass end than their older counterparts. In other words, you get more boom for the buck than you did in 1977.
Checking accounts and other bank services
Competition really can lower prices, particularly when internet competition arrives on the scene. If you don't mind online banking, you can find plenty of opportunities for free checking — and some old brick-and-mortar banks will offer free checking, too. The BLS says checking account and other bank fees have fallen 3.2 percent the past 12 months.
Obviously, the less money you pay to your bank, the more money you have over time. A $4.95 monthly checking fee will cost you $59.40 a year. If you're looking for a newer, cheaper bank account, be sure to ask what the minimum balance on the account is: You don't want to keep $1,000 idle to save a $4.95 monthly fee. You should also consider how large the bank's ATM network is, what it charges for ATM withdrawals, and whether it actually pays interest. And it never hurts to check with your local credit union for low fees and better interest rates on loans and deposits.
John Waggoner covers all things financial for AARP, from budgeting and taxes to retirement planning and Social Security. Previously he was a reporter for Kiplinger's Personal Finance and USA Today and has written books on investing and the 2008 financial crisis. Waggoner's USA Today investing column ran in dozens of newspapers for 25 years.