What Inflation? Some Items That Actually Cost Less
Inflation may be climbing faster than the humidity level, but there are still some things that actually cost less than they did a year ago.
Amid all the headlines about soaring energy and food prices, many consumers may not notice that they're getting a break on some items they buy every day.
"People don’t often remember [the positives]," said Jim Glassman, senior U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase. "The economy is not falling apart. It’s just stuck."
Friday's report on the consumer price index confirmed the predicted rise in gasoline and food costs, but core prices remained relatively flat. While financial markets cheered the results, they didn't give much comfort to consumers. The latest snapshot of consumer sentiment on Friday showed that it plunged to a 28-year low in June.
With that in mind, here's a look at a few of those things that aren't pinching your wallet.
The average price of a point-and-shoot digital camera has fallen $28 from a year ago, to $178, according to the NPD Group, a consumer tracking service.
The cost of LCD flat-panel TVs is also expected to drop $18 this year, to an average $848, while notebook computers are forecast to fall 9 percent, to $775, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
The trade group says you can also expect lower prices this year for plasma TVs, DVRs, desktop computers and cellular phones.
That’s because as time passes, companies can more efficiently produce the equipment, Vice President of the National Retail Federation Scott Krugman said. The speed at which new products are released also has an influence.
"What is new is now old so much faster,” he said. “Prices come down sharply."
Another area to spot savings is women’s apparel, even though the price for men’s and children’s clothing is on the rise, according to the CPI’s April 2008 report.
"It’s a much smaller part of the overall retail business," George Whalin, president and CEO of Retail Management Consultants, said. "Men buy clothes as needed, whereas women buy clothes based on a whole variety of other reasons."
If a female consumer went to a clothing store today, she would pay at least 4 percent less than she did a year ago for a pair of pants/slacks, which have an average price of $19.07, according to NPD.
The price of women’s shorts decreased from $14.20 to $13.81, almost 3 percent, and the overall price of women’s sleepwear decreased $0.85, averaging at $13.25.
Each of the subcategories — pajamas, nightgowns, sleep shirts and negligees — all posted falling prices.
There’s more good news. For travelers left sulking about increasing flight costs, the average daily rate for hotel lodging decreased in the month of April, down from $109.44 to $108.07, according to Smith Travel Research, of Hendersonville, Tenn.
This slight price reduction mainly stems from a decrease in business travel, JP Morgan economist Glassman said.
"People start realizing that phone calls or teleconferences can work," he said.
And if lower hotel prices inspire consumers to take a vacation, it might include a trip to a theme park, where prices are also falling.
Six Flags cut $10 off entry prices at the majority of their 19 parks in April, setting admission at $34.99 for its St. Louis park and $24.99 for the Texas-based Hurricane Harbor water park.
"People just aren’t going out as much," Glassman said. "People are getting squeezed, and they’re starting to push back."
If the kids complain about not going anywhere this summer, you can try to appease them with another cheaper item: toys.
The severe competition in this industry, paired with cheap overseas production costs, caused this steady 5.3 percent year-on-year decrease, Glassman said.
Demographics may also play a role.
The industry’s target audience is shrinking, as the nation’s second largest demographic, 15- to 25-year-olds, has simply outgrown its products, Glassman said.
"As there are fewer and fewer children, it’s going to have an effect on the toy industry," he said.
Household goods brought more price cuts, particularly in dinnerware, according to NPD.
Although prices didn’t decline for every product in this category, the price of formal, fine dinnerware, which NPD defines as bone china or porcelain with a metal accent band, decreased about 6 percent, falling from $39.58 to $37.10.
Plastic dinnerware fell from $1.95 to $1.74, on average, and multi-pack sales saw the biggest reduction, falling 14 percent to $7.42. Generic multi-pack dinnerware, the bulk packaging of one identical item, averaged at $11.66 in May 2005.