Big-picture inflation, like the 9.1% Consumer Price Index increase we saw in June, is definitely an attention catcher. But it actually may not cover all the ways your budget is taking a hit.
In addition to the very visible increases in the cost of things from houses to hamburger, businesses often look for inventive ways to increase their revenue that don’t involve changing sticker prices. Each one may seem small by itself; some of them we may not even notice or we may quickly forget about. But they can all have an impact on our personal bottom lines.
These are some business trends that could help explain your personal inflation experience:
- Providing less without providing a discount, aka “Shrinkflation.” This is kind of a marketing magic trick because it’s a way companies raise prices without appearing to charge more. Instead, they keep the price the same but give you less. Reaching the bottom of a bag of chips faster than you used to? Check the weight. If it’s lighter, you’ve paid more per chip than you used to and your budget never noticed.
- Charging for access to things you own. Or thought you did. There have been a few experiments with this, including a since-scrapped requirement users pay to unlock fitness equipment that they purchased. Paying to activate heated car seats is another, more recent one, that's been rolled out in a some countries.
- Charging for the plus-ones using your streaming account. Sharing passwords has been a public secret that many providers rolled with. But that was before a wave of cancelled subscriptions, which put question marks about the future growth and made investors itchy. A proposed fix? Capturing those invisible users by adding a per-household or user fee to the subscription.
- Making tips mandatory. The TLDR is tipping is complicated. Restaurant costs are too. Adding tips and/or appreciation fees to every bill is an experiment some restaurants use to offset rising food and labor costs.
- Charging more for credit card purchases. Handing over money is not something businesses take lightly, but a percentage of every credit card purchase goes out of their pockets to the credit card companies to use their payment networks. Some businesses, including gas stations and restaurants, have had it and are having customers pay the fee.
- “Taxing” exclusivity. Luxury brands don’t hide behind fees or add new services to raise prices, they just charge more, regardless of the economic news. This is because a luxury brand’s real value is how few people can afford it, not the craftsmanship or the materials they use. So if your splurges have become stretches, you may want to blame the economy, but the reality is that you’re deliberately being priced out.