Inflation has struck with a vengeance, reaching levels not seen in more than 40 years. Though the Federal Reserve is focused on bringing it under control, it may be too little too late as prices continue to skyrocket. All inflationary cycles eventually come to an end, but it’s difficult to know how much longer this one will last. But that doesn’t mean you and your finances must sit passively, as there are ways to mitigate its effects and, in some cases, make inflation work for you.
How Inflation Impacts Your Finances
We can see the effects of inflation every day at the grocery store and the gas pump. That’s the real-time impact on your pocketbook. However, the long-term impact of inflation can be devastating, as these effects can endure for years or even decades. It’s essential to grasp how inflation erodes your finances at all levels so you can take the proper steps to guard them.
Inflation Reduces Your Purchasing Power
With inflation, your dollars today are worth less in the future. Even with a moderate inflation rate of 3%, your purchasing power will be cut in half over a 23-year period. That means the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner for ten people, which costs $53 today, will cost $106 in the future. Google said it’s $64 dollars this year, up $11 from last year!
Higher inflation, such as what we are experiencing today, will reduce your purchasing power even more quickly. If current inflation should moderate to 7%, your purchasing power will be reduced by half in ten years. That can be particularly troublesome for people near or in retirement who must make their income last a lifetime. It can force them to reduce their expectations for their lifestyle or even go back to work.
While your spending power goes down, the second way inflation works against you is that it increases how much you will need to fund your retirement. Anytime the inflation rate exceeds the growth rate of your savings or investments, you are actually losing money net of inflation. Rising interest rates rate on savings accounts have increased to an average of 0.08%. But with inflation running at more than 9%, the average savings account is losing more than 8%. If the S&P 500 maintains its average return rate of the last 20 years or 8.91%, at 9% inflation, investors may not quite break even.
How Inflation triggers the rise in Interest Rates
To counter inflation, the Federal Reserve must increase short-term borrowing rates, which leads to banks increasing interest rates on consumer and business loans. And if you have purchased a house lately, you have seen how much this has impacted mortgage rates and payments. The purpose of the rate increases is to reduce the amount of demand (business and consumer spending) that drives inflation higher. When the cost of borrowing goes up, people and business can’t borrow more because they must account for a higher payment, which means less money to spend on items such as cars, big appliances, and mortgages.
Steps to Protect Your Finances Against Inflation
While you can’t hide from inflation, there are ways you can fortify your finances to mitigate its effects and even get ahead of it.
– Convert Variable Debt to Fixed
Borrowers with variable-rate debt are feeling the impact of rising interest rates because lenders are increasing interest rates. Rates on credit cards, adjustable-rate mortgages, and some personal loans are a few areas that have seen rate increases. You could consider locking in your payments by switching your variable-rate debt to fixed-rate debt. Although interest on fixed-rate mortgages have increased, for many they are still low enough to benefit from an adjustable-rate conversion. If you’re carrying credit card debt, you should try to pay it down as soon as possible or replace it with a fixed-rate personal loan.
– Accelerate Large Purchases
Prices of durable goods have risen over the past year, but if high inflation persists, they can be expected to continue to increase. If you have been planning on purchasing a big-ticket item, such as a large appliance, car, or home improvement, you could be better off making that purchase now to avoid paying higher prices for the same item in the future.
– Invest in Hard Assets
Assets such as real estate and commodities are assets that benefit from inflation—meaning their value rises in tandem with inflation, sometimes even outperforming it. Real estate is a good inflation hedge because landlords can always increase their rents, increasing the property’s value. If you’re reluctant to own real properties, you can benefit from the same effect by investing in real estate investment trusts (REITs).
Commodities such as energy products, industrial and precious metals are also a good inflation hedge. However, they can be volatile investments over time, so you may want to limit your exposure to commodities.
– Add TIPS to Your Portfolio
TIPS, or Treasury Inflation-Protection Securities, are government-backed bonds that adjust their rate based on the Consumer Price Index. The higher the rate of inflation, the higher your yield.
– Don’t Keep Your Money in Cash
You should always have enough cash (liquid savings) on hand to cover emergency expenses. But once you have enough saved for your emergency fund (6 months of expenses), keeping additional money in cash can be counterproductive. While cash may feel safe, how safe is it when you are losing purchasing power every single day?
For example, if you are earning 2% on your cash, but inflation is 7%, you are losing 5% of the value of that money. Inflation forces you to put your money to work. As an alternative, consider diversifying your investments among high-quality, dividend-paying stocks that tend to perform well even in times of inflation. You can find low-cost exchange-traded funds that invest in portfolios of blue-chip stocks.
While it’s impossible to avoid the ravages of high inflation completely, you can mitigate its impact by fortifying your finances. It would be essential to work with your financial advisor to conduct a thorough assessment of your finances and where you can take some reasonable steps to help you come out stronger on the other end.
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Echelon Financial is a member firm of The Fiduciary Alliance, LLC which is an Investment Adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Fiduciary Alliance’s business operations, services, and fees is available at the SEC’s investment adviser public information website www.adviserinfo.sec.gov or from The Fiduciary Alliance upon request.