Your ‘personal inflation rate’ varies by where you live, among other factors

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There’s no question that persistently high inflation is pinching household budgets across the nation.

Yet, depending on variables such as location and spending patterns, your personal rate of inflation could be better or worse than the national average. In September, prices overall were 8.2% higher than they were a year earlier, as measured by the consumer price index, or CPI.

“Once you get into a high inflation environment, the difference in impact among individuals can be quite remarkable,” said Brian Bethune, an economist and professor at Boston College.

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Take location, for instance. Some metro areas in the U.S. come with an overall inflation rate that’s worse than the average, according to research from personal finance website WalletHub, which used data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics to compile its study.

In the Tampa, Florida, area, prices in September were 10.5% higher than they were a year earlier, the research shows. And in Phoenix, the rate of yearly inflation in August was 13%. (There’s a lag in reported data from some metro areas.)

Aside from where you live, the impact of inflation on your budget also depends on your personal expenditures, which fall into different CPI categories of expenses — say, transportation, dining out or medical care.

“You can have two people in the same city with very different spending habits,” said certified financial planner Douglas Boneparth, president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York City.

Rent and groceries are pinching budgets

Higher prices are taking a toll on households, with 32% of them paying bills late in the past six months, according to a recent survey from LendingTree.

Grocery prices are up 13% from September 2021. So-called core inflation — which excludes energy and food — is up 6.6%. Shelter, which includes rent, has also climbed 6.6% in the last year and accounts for more than 40% of core inflation.

“Low- and middle-income households are spending most of their income on basic necessities [housing, food, energy],” said Dawit Kebede, senior economist for the Credit Union National Association..

Although inflation is a normal part of the economy, the current pace is far beyond the Federal Reserve’s target rate of 2%.

The nation’s central bank is expected to continue its campaign to bring down inflation by pushing interest rates higher. When the rate-setting committee meets in early November, it’s expected to raise the so-called federal funds rate by 0.75 percentage point for the fourth consecutive time. That rate has a ripple effect and ends up affecting the interest rate you pay on credit cards and loans.

The idea generally is that by making the cost of borrowing money more expensive, spending will drop and there will be less inflationary pressure due to lower consumer demand. This approach also can lead to job losses.

Another rate hike will “cause more pain for low- and middle-income households, as they’re among the first to be affected by rising unemployment,” Kebede said.

Right now, the job market remains tight: The unemployment rate is a low 3.5%. However, it is expected that an economic slowdown would translate into job losses.

Experts say it’s worth making sure you have a financial cushion (i.e., emergency savings) in case your income drops.

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