Personal finance

Here’s what consumers plan to cut back on if prices continue to surge

Edwin Lopez sorts the money in the cash register at Frankie’s Pizza on January 12, 2022 in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

As inflation continues to weigh on American households, people are plotting what they’ll cut from their budgets in the coming months to keep spending in check.

More than 50% of adults say they’ve already cut back on dining out and will consider reducing that further if inflation continues to surge, according to the CNBC + Acorns Invest in You survey, conducted by Momentive. The online survey of nearly 4,000 adults was conducted March 23-24.  

People are also cutting back on driving and subscriptions and are even canceling vacations to keep up with inflation, the survey found.

“It’s been astounding,” said Tania Brown, an Atlanta-based certified financial planner and founder of FinanciallyConfidentMom.com.

People are thinking about rising prices all the time

Inflation is at its highest level in 40 years and has pushed up the prices of most consumer goods and services, including housing, food and energy.

That means many Americans are suddenly spending more on essentials, making their budgets tighter without any change in habits. People are noticing these hikes and paying closer attention. Nearly half of all adults said they think about rising prices all the time, while 55% of those with annual household income of $50,000 or less are constantly checking costs, the survey found.

“Having your eyes focused on your spending is always a good strategy,” said Susan Greenhalgh, an accredited financial counselor who runs Mind Your Money LLC in Rhode Island. “You really can’t understand what’s happening with your money unless you’re really looking at it and measuring it.”

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Keeping track of what you spend can also help you tailor where you can cut back, she said, as inflation hits everyone differently. If you’re someone who doesn’t eat out much but is getting pummeled by gas prices at the pump, reducing driving will probably help your budget more than skipping a few dinners at a restaurant.

It’s also important to be watching and comparing your spending month to month because prices are rising so quickly. You may have to adjust more frequently than you’ve had to in the past.

“The No. 1 goal is, no matter what, to protect the necessities, and that is food, shelter, basic transportation and basic medical,” said Brown.

What to do about inflation

Inflation is poised to continue to run hot, squeezing budgets even further. More than 75% of adults said they’re worried higher prices will force them to rethink their financial choices, the survey found.

The impact will be the harshest on those with the lowest incomes who may be pushed into survival mode, said Brown. For those struggling to cut spending even more, she also said to reach out to creditors and lenders to see if you can put off payments.

Some people may also qualify for programs to help with utility bills, which could help with monthly costs she said. It may also be time to dip into emergency savings to cover your essential costs, if you need to, she added.

Those with higher incomes will also have to adjust, especially if they want to keep saving at the same rate as they were before inflation ticked up, said Greenhalgh.

Of course, if your budget is stretched too thin, cutting back on savings may have to happen to avoid debt. If that’s the case, both Brown and Greenhalgh suggest putting away smaller amounts consistently to keep yourself in the habit of saving.

“As long as you’re taking things in the right direction, that’s great,” said Brown.

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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