By Alicia Wallace, CNN Business

Inflation has crept into virtually every corner of American life.

In Queens, New York, says auto repair shop owner Audra Fordin some Customers have chosen to save money by patching pick up a flat tire, only to be later swept aside by more costly repairs.

In Mount Juliet, Tennessee, operators at a nonprofit dog shelter have seen the cost of pet food and veterinary care skyrocket while donations have plummeted.

In New Orleans, a fledgling art and card business had to play a guessing game with suppliers because fuel surcharges meant it rarely knew when products would arrive or how much they would cost.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, owners of a sporting goods store have heard from salespeople about pending price increases.

It’s not just food and fuel

From new tires to a visit to the dentist or a new piece of sports equipment, almost everything The spending category tracked in the consumer price index shows price increases not only from last year, but also from before Pandemic. The surges, fueled in part by high crude oil prices, supply chain disruptions and global economic pressures, show how pervasive inflation has become in America.

“Everything that directly or indirectly touches or depends on these really hot categories — food and energy — is also seeing faster increases, but it’s really a broad-based increase,” said Nikolai Roussanov, finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School .

Major appliance prices rose nearly 24% in June because before the pandemic in June 2019, according to CPI, tires were up 20%, veterinary services were up 17%, and sporting goods were up about 14%.

Though those increases may pale in comparison to gas and grocery costs, which are significantly higher than 2019, a 20% increase in a one-off — and often urgent — expense can be a budget killer in an age when paychecks are thinly spread.

“Low-income families are easily derailed by these unexpected expenses,” said Elizabeth Ananat, an economics professor at Barnard College who studies issues such as inequality, poverty and the impact of the pandemic on low-income mothers and families.

And while pandemic-related stimulus efforts like expanded child tax credit payments temporarily eased some of those lingering money worries for families by helping them deal with unexpected expenses and sustain employment, low-income families have depleted that savings buffer, she said.

“If we look at the bank balances of low-income families, on average, that’s gone down to zero,” she said. “When that happens, people can’t make ends meet … and it starts snowing.”

see company firsthand how higher costs are affecting all facets of life and the difficult choices consumers are making as a result.

At Great Bear Auto Repair in Queens, New York, “price is everything,” said Fordin, whose great-grandfather founded the business in 1933.

“My motor oil is off the hook,” she said. “Every time they deliver, my motor oil prices go up, my auto parts prices go up, my workforce goes up, my cost of living goes up.”

For the most part, Great Bear absorbs a lot of the price hikes — especially when it comes to services like oil changes, she said.

“We’re just doing it at cost so we can continue to provide the service,” she said. “People don’t necessarily have the finances for an even bigger increase right now.”

Broad-based inflation is having a double whammy on the auto business, which is in a state of flux due to high oil prices, delays in shipments and shortages of computer chips. Many customers are putting more miles on their cars because they can’t afford new or used ones and have started backing out on repairs — even the relatively small ones.

It’s a shift in consumer behavior and sentiment that Fordin last saw around 2008, when oil prices were soaring and the Great Recession was in full swing.

“It feels like hesitation; people are scared,” she said. “They are uncomfortable with the money. You can’t afford to put gas in your car. You can’t afford to put oil in your car.”

At Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary in Tennessee, donations serve as a lifeline.

The 10-year-old nonprofit provides food and veterinary care to more than 500 senior dogs — including 125 rescued dogs and about 400 furry friends housed in Forever Foster homes. Operating costs are approximately $4 million per year and the organization is 100% dependent on donations.

Those donations have declined significantly since late last year, down 50%, said Zina Goodin, the shrine’s executive director.

“Everyone gets hit [by rising prices],” She said.

Old Friends has a financial buffer to fill in the gaps, but those operating costs have increased, she said. Grocery costs are about 25% higher than last year, drug costs are rising, and labor costs are rising as the nonprofit tries to remain competitive for workers, she said.

“We’re fine at the moment, but over time that buffer will be used up,” she said, “and we’re worried about what’s going to happen.”

Magazine Street in New Orleans is home to cafes, restaurants and boutique shops including The Collective Shop, an art print and stationery shop founded in 2020 by Alysia Fields and Toni Point.

Having successfully weathered the worst of the pandemic, the store and online retailer are now trying to weather this period of high inflation, Fields said. Cardboard and other paper goods have become more expensive and harder to come by. The supply was lacking, so Fields and Point had to estimate inventory needs and buy more than they normally would.

“We have to play this fun game of trapping certain things and thinking we’re going to need it later,” Fields said.

The cost increases have forced the fledgling company to pause free online shipping as delivery costs and shipping surcharges have become too unpredictable.

For the most part, The Collective Shop has tried not to increase the price of its cards and stationery, instead letting the wall art serve as a moneymaker, she said.

But for a store that’s part of a business district that relies heavily on passers-by and tourists, Fields has noted that inflation seems to be taking a bite.

“We’re so used to crawling with travelers and it just doesn’t feel like it,” she said. “You can tell there’s still a lot of reluctance to travel and buy anything other than food and liquor.”

Inflation rates are expected to moderate in the coming months, but consumers are likely to feel the impact of high prices for many months to come.

At Joe’s Sporting Goods in St. Paul, Minnesota, most of the outdoor gear on display – a motley assortment of kayaks, tents, paddleboards and other products – was made more than six months ago and at a time when petroleum was being exhausted These items were significantly cheaper to produce, said Jim Rauscher, co-owner and president of the Twin Cities business. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year helped push oil prices to record levels, impacting everything from prices at the pump to key petroleum-based materials – and Rauscher braces for price spikes.

The kayak, which could retail for $850 now, will likely be $1,000 or a little more next year, he said.

“You’ll see the higher prices at least during the holiday season and possibly into next spring,” he said.

While everyone along the supply chain is feeling the impact of higher prices, Rauscher is trying to keep an eye on the situation. His family has run Joe’s for nine decades and has navigated many choppy economic waters.

“If you’ve been through this in the past and know that everything is kind of cyclical, you’ll make it,” he said of his business.

As widespread inflation continues to make certain purchases unattainable, families are learning to adjust their budgets — and their outlook.

When Amy Randall’s dishwasher broke a few months ago, the substitute teacher watched video after video on YouTube for possible solutions, but none of them worked. She washes dishes by hand now.

When the cost of Chuck Roast hit $28, Randall’s family turned to their garden, which was teeming with zucchini, instead.

Her home in New York’s Catskills area could use a lick of paint, but the quoted prices are now completely out of reach for the 60-year-old single mom.

“I don’t care if the paint is peeling on my house, I don’t have any money,” she said. “People have to make a living, and people charge more for things. And so all these things just have to be put aside.”

Randall said she took a more mindful approach, being less boisterous and more imaginative, or just “okay when things aren’t okay,” she said.

“I don’t want my children to see the heartache and distress,” she said. “I want my kids to see that we are flexible and have everything we need, but some things are just too expensive.”

The CNN Wire
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