Opinion | Personal Finance Tips Won’t Help Americans Really Cope With Inflation

Bloomberg summed up the advice in this tweet:

The phrase “Nobody said this would be funny” comes from the tweet, not the article itself. But no one wants to be told to eat their lentils and cut back on treating their sick pet, especially when the rich don’t need to do the same.

The big way the piece missed the boat was by assuming that these lifestyle cuts could result in significant savings and confer the benefit of teaching self-control and increasing personal resilience.

Inflation, of course, is a big problem. Prices continue to rise at the fastest annual rate in 40 years, February data showed, with the cost of gasoline, food and housing responsible for much of the increase. food bank report Increased demand for help Surveys show that black and latino are more likely to say that inflation is causing them financial stress than white respondents. Three out of four Americans said in a bank fee this month’s survey that rising prices are hurting their personal finances. Public anger is growing.

But the political and economic problems related to inflation tend to be downplayed, if not thrown out the window, when inflation is framed as a personal finance story. In this treatment, inflation becomes one more challenge that individuals must face to improve their situation. Instead of making policy recommendations (steps, say, that the Biden administration could take to alleviate supply chain shortages), a personal finance column outlines the economic dilemma facing readers and puts the responsibility back on them to take action. .

But when it comes to inflation, this approach is useless. No one can cut budgets to get out of rapidly rising prices across the board, not when wage increases don’t keep pace with inflation. The calls to sacrifice ring deaf because, no matter how well-intentioned, they are.

Much of what the Bloomberg column argues is true. vegetarian meals is it so often cheaper and healthier than meat. It’s a good idea to check your credit card statements for monthly subscription charges you’re paying but no longer using. (I recently did this and found two separate Disney Plus subscriptions.) and pet owners they should think hard, for ethical reasons, before putting a pet through chemotherapy.

But people know these things. Mail reporter Abha Bhattarai showed this week how inflation is affecting fixed income. She spoke to retirees who were rationing hot showers and, yes, skimping on meat. “I do most of my food shopping in discount containers,” said one. Another said many of his meals consist of “oatmeal, eggs, pasta salad, toasted cheese sandwiches.” The problem was not ignorance about budget decisions. The problem is that they were cutting back and yet they were unable to keep up with rising energy and housing costs.

And if rental income increases by 33 percent, as it did in New York City, between January 2021 and January 2022 according to the real estate site Apartment list — Reducing meat consumption, even several days a week, is unlikely to make a significant difference. The same goes for gasoline prices, which are rising at the fastest rate since record keeping began in the mid-1970s. Individuals could remove optional units; But your commutes to work and school are unlikely to change significantly, and using public transportation to save money is highly impractical in much of the United States.

Giving people some helpful saving tips can’t “solve” inflation or make it significantly easier to navigate, any more than the problem was solved when financial adviser Suze Orman suggested that people stop “to peethey squandered their retirement savings on expensive takeout coffees. Or when then-Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told people to give up their iPhones if they couldn’t afford Obamacare premiums, or when experts suggest millennials could afford houses if only they did. saute avocado toast.

Inflation is not a simple personal finance story. And treating it as such doesn’t change that fact.

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