Opinion

Ebstein: Let’s consider the real costs of inflation

Posted 5/12/22

A while back, I shared a guessing game I play at the grocery. It goes like this. As I approach the register, I announce, “Today, I’m going to guess what my groceries total,” and then offer an amount.

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Opinion

Ebstein: Let’s consider the real costs of inflation

Posted

A while back, I shared a guessing game I play at the grocery. It goes like this. As I approach the register, I announce, “Today, I’m going to guess what my groceries total,” and then offer an amount.

The cashier usually counters, and we see who’s closest. It’s become popular, and everyone has fun.

The problem? I am increasingly off in my estimates.

One of my favorite cashiers, Elaine, coached me to bump up my guesstimate by 15% to account for inflation. I did that, and it got me closer.

I need a dose of Elaine again. As the prices continue to soar, I am back to missing by a substantial amount. “It’s only a game,” I tell myself, but of course, it’s more than that. It’s a stress point. How are we going to afford life as we’ve known it?

When I tell my kids that a single onion now costs $1.19, and I remember when it was 89 cents, I sound very old and “complainy,” to borrow their word. They politely tell me to let it be and “accept the new norm.”

I’m trying, but after the grocery, I buy gas. I don’t need to finish this thought other than to say my children won’t let me complain about gas prices either. “We know, Mom. Tell us something new.”

And this is only the tip of a very changing landscape. I can’t go to my dry cleaners anymore because they shut down. COVID generated a workforce that works at home in sweats, and as we count pennies, who wants to pay for dry cleaning anyway? While I wasn’t a frequent customer, I miss them and what it says about my remade world.

Last month, I experienced my first plane travel in more than two years. Many small moments spoke to change, but nothing spoke louder than my snack purchase before boarding: Greek yogurt with granola and a few berries (truly a few). I paid more than $13 for this cup, and when I complained to my brother, who was traveling with me, he said that I got a relative bargain. His single-serve pizza and coffee totaled $25.

The realities of inflation and the possibility of an impending recession make me want to work harder and earn more. As a self-employed consultant who has mostly kept my dance card full, I know that maintaining a full dance card is harder today. Clients have strong needs but even tighter budgets. Plus, they are trying to determine how to retain their employees who are on the verge of flight themselves or demanding higher wages.

In my conversations with clients, I can detect palpable anxiety about how they’ll manage their company’s future. If your business requires chips and semiconductors, you hope to score what you need, knowing you will pay more. Then you hope you can pass along those costs to your customers who also face tight budgets. The ripple effects of inflation float everywhere, causing a dent in our confidence.

This helps explain why, as a population at large, we have lost one of our best remedies for our “spiritual malaise” — to coin a term attributed to former president Jimmy Carter. At the time, the country was facing record-high inflation (13%).

Gasoline was being rationed, using the number on a car’s license to determine whether it was an “odd or even” day for filling up. America’s first space station, Skylab, was about to come crashing down, but no one knew where. Carter’s popularity sank to 25%. Then we got Carter’s “malaise” speech, which could just as well describe our mood today.

The valuable remedy we have lost in treating our mood is what my grocery cart guessing game aimed to bring back: laughter. Between inflation, Covid anxiety, and social unrest, we simply don’t laugh enough. It’s not only fun to laugh. It’s therapeutic as it triggers a release of “feel-good” endorphins, enabling us to feel healthier.

Ask your friends or family if they can remember their last guffaw. You’ll be surprised at their response. Research tells us that in 2021, the typical adult laughed eight times per day, compared to a historical norm of 17 times per day. We need to raise our laugh quota to return to health.

Now I feel better about my silly game, but the problem is that I can’t identify my other seven daily laughs. I need those laughs. Because, if laughter comes, can confidence be far behind?

Editor’s note: Jill Ebstein is the editor of the “At My Pace” series of books and the founder of Sized Right Marketing, a consulting firm. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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