WTF Is Inflation (And Why Is Everyone Talking About It?)

Depending on how current events-savvy you are, you may have been hearing some talk of inflation lately.

But…what is inflation, exactly? And what do you need to know about it?

Basically, inflation is when your expenses go up faster than your purchasing power.

I’m not talking about expenses going up because you went on a spending spree. It’s when the same items become more expensive in back-to-back years.

You might not notice these things, but it’s actually normal for prices to periodically increase. Sometimes the cost of milk goes up a few cents; every once in awhile there’s a “rate increase” notice at the hair salon.

According to the Federal Reserve, a “good” inflation rate is generally below 2% (a.k.a. inflation doesn’t drive the price increase more than 2% each year — there are other things that cause price increases, too, like someone becoming more skilled/experienced — that’s not what we’re talking about).

Since inflation is usually under 2%, many employees get a 3% raise each year.

If inflation is 2%, and you get a 2% raise, you really haven’t gotten a raise. And if your salary didn’t go up at all? Well, you’re actually LOSING MONEY, even if your income is the same.

Think about it. If you make $100 a year (obviously very simplified numbers here), and your costs are $80 a year, then inflation comes around and raises your costs by 2% (to around $82/year), you actually have less money in the bank even if your income stayed the same. Ya dig?

As I’m writing this article, inflation is around 6.2%, a 30-year high.

That means (with our simplified numbers above) if our costs were $80 last year, they’re $86.2 this year, but our income is still around $100.

Ergo, even with the same income, I have less money in the bank.

The biggest question is…how big of a deal is all this?

Not to be cynical, but people’s opinion often corresponds to their political affiliation. If inflation is bad under a Democrat president, Democrats tend to say it’s no big deal; Republicans say it’s a calamity. If the president is a Republican, Republicans say it’s no big deal; Democrats say it’s a calamity.

The truth, as it so often is, is probably somewhere in the middle.

Inflation does need to be closely monitored, or it can lead to something called hyperinflation.

With hyperinflation, expenses become so insanely high it costs like $1000 for a loaf of bread (or $100 billion, in the case of the Weimar Republic, one of the most famous examples of rampant hyperinflation).

It’s important to note that hyperinflation isn’t some wild theory — It’s happened many times throughout history, usually under leaders who print a ton of money to make people feel richer…but then it devalues the currency beyond all reason.

At the same time, some of the inflation we’re experiencing was expected.

That doesn’t mean it’s good for your bank account, but it’s not exactly out of control.

Remember at the start of the pandemic, when everyone was worried they would lose their jobs, and therefore their homes, and everything else? Well, the government put measures in place to help mitigate the crisis. Between the stimulus checks, low interest rates, etc., a ton of new money went into circulation.

And, when there’s a lot more money in circulation, the market automatically adjusts its value.

In economic terms, it’s often referred to as the “invisible hand” of the market.

It’s like if you have one diamond, you’ll probably take extra good care of it, but if you have 1,000, you might not be as concerned if you lose one. With more money in circulation, the value of a single dollar diminishes.

Again, it’s not great, since it means the money you have in the bank loses value (even if the dollar count remains the same). But again, it’s to be expected with the economic policies that have been implemented (under both Democrats and Republicans).

Definitions/Terms:

  • Savvy – Shrewd; knowledgeable
  • Inflation – A general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money (New Oxford American Dictionary)
  • The Federal Reserve – The banking authority that implements monetary policy for the United States.
  • Ergo – Therefore
  • Calamity – Catastrophe; an event causing great and sudden damage
  • Hyperinflation – Monetary inflation occurring at a very high rate (New Oxford American Dictionary)
  • Weimar Republic – Basically, what Germany was called between World War I and World War II. Soaring inflation and high unemployment fostered unrest, contributing to the rise of Adolf Hitler.
  • Rampant – Flourishing or spreading unchecked, usually describing something bad
  • Mitigate – Make less intense
  • Diminishes – Becomes less impressive or valuable
  • Implemented – Put into place

Did you find this helpful? Still have questions? Leave a comment below!