Key Prices Up More Than Triple Official Inflation Rate

Last Updated Jan 18, 2011 12:43 PM EST

The official price checkers in Washington recently reported that the Consumer Price index rose just 1.5 percent in 2010. That's less than half the long-term historical inflation rate. But as your wallet may have already been telling you, lurking within that deceptively low overall inflation rate are plenty of items that became a lot more expensive in 2010.

A gallon of gas shot up about eight times the official average rate, some food prices rose more than triple the 1.5 percent average inflation rate, and school tuition increased at more than double that pace. So no, it's not your imagination. Some key consumer prices are indeed rising, and rising a lot more than the "headline" inflation number. Here are some thoughts on how to hold down your spending in the categories with the biggest price jumps in 2010:

  • Gas (2010 price increase: 13.8 percent)
Strategy: Getting the boss to allow you to telecommute a day or two a week could make the biggest dent in your gas outlays.

Public transportation might be a money saver, but according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, even that cost rose 4.9 percent in 2010, or more than triple the overall 1.5 percent rate of inflation. Still, that's a lot lower than the 13.8 percent rise in gas. If you're in the market for a new car in 2011, MoneyWatch's Jerry Edgerton recently reported on how to land better car mileage without settling for a wimpy engine. And if you're keeping the wheels you have, be sure to check out Farnoosh Torabi's checklist of ways to save on gas costs in 2011. Top of her list: make it a part of your routine to fuel up at Costco and BJ's Warehouse to pocket savings of up to 10 percent or so.

  • Household Goods (2010 price increase: 6.7 percent)
Strategy: This includes the BLS' catchy "consumer non-durables, excluding food and apparel" category that tracks prices for household items such as cleaning products and cosmetics. Don't make a trip to the big discount warehouse just for the cheaper gas; head on inside and stock up on your these items in bulk. If you prefer eco-friendly cleaning products, Target has a broad array of choices.
  • Water and Sewer and Garbage Collection (2010 price increase: 5.7 percent)
Strategy: Time to finally put in the low-flow showerhead, run the dishwater and washing machine only when absolutely full, and perhaps set up the composter in the back yard.

  • Meat, Poultry, and Fish (2010 price increase: 5.5 percent)
Strategy: Go vegetarian? Better yet, go vegan, as the index of dairy prices rose 3.7 percent as well. If that's too extreme, maybe just focus on laying off the pork a bit. The main driver of higher meat prices was in the porcine category: bacon prices rose 14 percent in 2010 and pork chops were up nearly 9 percent. And hey, if scaling back on the bacon helps your overall health and keeps you out of the hospital, that could be a double win: consumer costs for hospital visits rose 6.7 percent in 2010.

  • School Tuition (2010 price increase: 4.0 percent)
Strategy: There's really no news here as education costs have been outpacing the general rate of inflation for years. That just makes planning all the more important. If you've got youngsters, saving up in a 529 College Savings Plan makes sense. If your kids are already in high school, MoneyWatch's Lynn O'Shaughnessy highlights in-state universities that offer tuition deals to top notch out-of-state students. And a small bit of good news: tricking out a college-bound student with the requisite computer gear is getting cheaper. According to the BLS, personal computer costs and "peripheral equipment" actually fell 5.6 percent in 2010.

Photo courtesy Flickr user dvortygirl
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