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How far will your money go in 2015?
Salaried workers can expect to see an extra 3 percent in their paychecks this year, according to compensation consultant Towers Watson. Minimum wage increases also went into effect in 20 states this month, giving many low-wage workers a boost.
But that doesn't guarantee more cash in your pocket. Prices for some consumer goods and services are expected to skyrocket over 2015, but others could fall in price. That means you could end up with some savings if you adjust your shopping plans accordingly.
Here are 9 commonly used items that are likely to cost you more—or less—in the year ahead, and why you can expect a price change.
—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant
Posted 10 Jan. 2015
Consider it added incentive to pay off your holiday debt early. Should the Federal Reserve raise rates this year—which it is widely expected to do—the rates on your credit card could shift practically overnight, said Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com.
"Even if you only carry a balance occasionally, this is something that's relevant," he said. The average variable-rate card currently charges 15.7 percent, according to Bankrate.com; that could rise to 16.2 percent by the end of 2015. That's extra cash in interest and, for someone paying off a bigger balance, a longer timeline to zero it out.
With a rate hike looming, consumers may want to reassess their current card, Arnold said. Consider locking in a card offering zero percent on new purchases, or one that has a no- or low-fee balance transfer offer. Those deals, while not likely to disappear entirely, could be less generous when rates increase.
"There might be a shorter intro period, a higher rate than zero percent, or higher fees," he said. "There are a lot of ways they can hit you."
Forget $4-a-gallon gas. This year, most U.S. cities will barely touch $3 a gallon; and that, only during the summer when demand peaks, predicts GasBuddy.com. The average throughout 2015, they say, will be $2.64. "Prices won't just be slightly under their year-ago levels, but noticeably so for most of the summer," said Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst for the site.
That craving for a burger or a decent steak could cost you. Prices for meat have jumped over the past year, reflecting higher costs for feed stemming from the droughts in Texas, Oklahoma and California, said Teri Gault, founder of TheGroceryGame.com.
A pound of ground beef sells for $4.26, up 18 percent from a year ago, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. USDA Choice sirloin steak is $8.28 per pound, up 22 percent over the same period, while boneless pork chops are up 14.4 percent, to $4.52 per pound. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting increases of another 4.5 to 5.5 percent this year for pork and beef.
But smart shoppers may not see that increase reflected in their grocery bills. Even as regular prices rise, supermarket sales tend to stay at around the same level, said Gault. Consider that more reason to pick your protein based on what's on sale that week, be that chicken breast, pork chops or shell steak. "It pays to stock up," she said.
Depending on your travel habits, changes here could work for or against your favor. Airlines could finally begin passing savings from falling oil prices to consumers.
The International Air Transport Association predicts a 5.1 percent drop in fares due to that cheaper oil. The catch? That's before factoring in fees and surcharges, which have been on an upswing. Airlines raked in an all-time high of $49.9 billion in ancillary fees last year, according to CarTrawler, up 17.2 percent from 2013. More are on the way. JetBlue recently announced it will introduce bag fees for those buying its cheapest ticket class.
Bidding wars aside, house hunters may find listing prices have shifted out of their favor. Home prices could rise at a moderate pace of 4 to 5 percent this year, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.
Buy in the second half of the year, and higher mortgage rates may add to your cost. Bankrate.com expects that rates for a 30-year-fixed-rate mortgage could climb from current sub-4 percent lows to an average 4.75 percent by year-end.
Renting? Don't think you're escaping higher costs. Renters paid 4.9 percent more in 2014 than the year before, according to Zillow, and that trend of rising rates is likely to continue. Yun estimates the hike this year will be close to 4 percent.
"A gallon of milk costs more than a gallon of gas right now," said Gault. (That's $3.86 per gallon of whole milk, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to the $2.18 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline, per AAA.)
Still, the trend of higher prices for milk and butter is expected to reverse. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that U.S. dairies will boost production this year and have extra supply from reduced exports.That could push supply up and prices down. Already, supermarket sales on butter have been both more frequent and lower priced, said Gault.
A healthy 2015 may not lead to a wealthy one. Employers expect healthcare costs to rise 6.5 percent this year, according to the National Business Group on Health. And employees are shouldering an increasingly large burden of the costs.
A new report from The Commonwealth Fund found that over the past decade, the cost of employer-provided healthcare grew faster than incomes—with some employee contributions rising as much as 175 percent..
"In terms of overall pricing, the competition from carriers is going to help create more value, especially on the data side," said Todd Day, an industry analyst for Frost & Sullivan. "They're going to see the data costs go down over the next two years."
T-Mobile and AT&T, for example, have both recently introduced plans allowing customers to roll over unused data from month to month. There's also a growing interest in no-contract plans from big carriers and small start-ups (like Consumer Cellular and Republic Wireless) that give users a price break on their plan in exchange for paying the full retail cost of the handset over time—a trade-off that can pay off if you don't need the latest handset every year.
Sorry, coffee drinkers: The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects constrained supply this year thanks to a combination of increased consumption and drought- and blight-related production drops in Brazil, Peru, Vietnam and Indonesia. In December, they forecast a drop of 2.7 million bags compared with last year.
In 2014, brands including Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and Folgers raised prices; effective Dec. 28, Kraft Foods put in place a 9 percent price hike on its single-serving K-cup packs of Maxwell House, Gevalia, McCafe and Yuban brands.
But don't put your caffeine contingency plan in effect just yet. "We've seen some great sales for coffee, still," said Gault. Plus, prices are starting from relative lows. By the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, a pound of ground coffee runs $4.71, down 6.5 percent from the year before.