The specter of rising inflation that is expected to plague consumers has yet to materialize. In fact, the latest consumer price index figures show that prices in April were actually flat compared to a year ago.
Regardless, you may have noticed that you're paying more on certain items than you did, say, just a couple of weeks ago. States looking to raise funds have hiked taxes on everything from cigarettes to toll roads, banks are trying to cushion their coffers by charging exorbitant fees and struggling colleges continue to ramp up tuition hoping to cover costs.
And those are just a few of the places consumers' wallets are getting hit. Despite any really significant signs of inflation, here are some items consumers are already shelling out more cash for (in order from the smallest percentage increase to the largest):
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1. First-Class Postage Stamps
Price in April: 42 cents
Price now: 44 cents
Percentage increase: 4.7%
The U.S. Postal Service raised the price of a first-class stamp yet again last month -- the third increase in as many years. Other items that were affected: The first ounce for a large envelope rose to 88 cents from 83 cents (any weight over that amount remains at 83 cents an ounce), and the first ounce of a parcel package is now $1.22, up from $1.17.
Those rate hikes may not be enough to cover the agency's cash shortfall: In May, the USPS announced that it had a year-to-date net loss of $2.3 billion, compared to a $35 million loss in the year-ago period. The agency, which recently asked Congress for permission to cut its delivery days to five days a week from six, blames its financial woes on the recession and revenue lost to email.
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2. College Tuition
Tuition at the University of Texas (Austin)
Price for 2008-09 academic year: $4,266
Price for 2009-10 academic year: $4,477
Percentage increase: 4.9%
Almost without fail, colleges and universities hike tuition each year. Historically, annual tuition increases at almost twice the inflation rate, says Peter Mazareas, vice chairman of the College Savings Foundation, a non-profit that helps families save for college. But this year, shrinking state budgets have put the squeeze on public universities. Incoming freshmen at the University of Texas's Austin campus will be paying $4,477 in tuition costs this fall, a nearly 5% jump from the year before. And at the nine University of California undergraduate campuses, average tuition will be 8% higher.
Such hikes are common across the states. The average tuition costs for a four-year public college was $6,585 in the 2008-09 academic year, a 6.4% increase from the year before, according to the College Board. Even two-year community colleges boosted their tuition costs by an average 4.7% last year.
3. Ice Cream
Half-gallon of ice cream
June 2008: $4.06
April 2009: $4.36
Along with energy, food prices are the most volatile and hard to predict, says Michael J. Roberts, agriculture professor at North Carolina State University. Take dairy for example. Prices for milk, cheese and eggs have been flat or lower since last year. But if you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, be prepared to pay up. The price of a half-gallon of ice cream is up 7%, from June of last year, according to United States Department of Agriculture data.
As for the rest of the food on your shopping list? Beef and chicken have remained more or less the same (although certain cuts like extra lean ground beef and whole chickens are slightly more expensive). And that box of cereal? You're paying about 5% more than a year ago, according to the latest Consumer Price Index.
Pack of 20 Marlboro Lights in Florida
Price now: $5.69
Price as of July 1: $6.69
Percentage increase: 17.5%
In July, smokers in Florida will have to shell out an extra buck when they buy a pack. Facing a $2.3 billion budget shortfall, the state passed a $1-per-pack increase in its cigarette surcharge -- the biggest of its kind in the sunshine state's history. The tax will now total $1.34 a pack.
Tobacco is an easy target for states to raise revenue. Indeed, seven other states, including Arkansas, Wyoming and Kentucky, have enacted tax hikes on tobacco products so far this year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a policy think tank in Washington, D.C. But no other state makes more money off of its smokers than New York, which takes the honor of levying the highest cigarette tax: $2.75 a pack.
5. Bank Fees
ATM fee at Citibank for noncustomers
Price in June 2008: $2
Price now: $3
Percentage increase: 50%
Loyalty is key when it comes to banking these days. Chase customers that go to a Bank of America (BAC) ATM in need of quick cash fix should be prepared to pay up. In fact, Bank of America, Chase and Citibank (C) all charge non-customers $3 to use their ATMs these days. (Bank of America jacked up its ATM fees in July 2007, and Chase (JPM) and Citibank followed suit in January and July 2008, respectively.)
Consumers should be indignant -- but not surprised: ATM fee increases are about as predictable as snow in Alaska. Among the nation's major banks, average ATM surcharges were nearly 10% higher in 2008 than in 2007, according to a Bankrate.com survey -- much steeper than the rate of inflation.
Daily round-trip into downtown Boston on Mass Pike
Price now: $5
Price in July (pending legislation): $8
Percentage difference: 60%
Not only do drivers have to contend with creeping gas prices (see next slide), but many have to pay more for tolls, too. State lawmakers are debating whether the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority can go through with a 60% increase in tolls (daily round-trip cost into downtown Boston is now $5; the Authority is proposing to change it to $8). The first phase of the increase fell through a couple of months ago, but the second is expected to be enacted on July 1.
For the first time since 1990, the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, which operates more than 100 miles of road in Central Florida, raised its tolls by 25 cents in April. The bump was in response to an 8% decline in overall traffic. Drivers in other states will likely get hit as well: Lawmakers in New Hampshire and West Virginia are considering raising tolls.
Gallon of unleaded gas in Minneapolis
Price in January: $1.61
Price now: $2.62
Percentage increase: 63%
Minneapolis drivers paid $2.62 for a gallon of unleaded gas last week -- 63% more than they paid in January. That increase reflects the overall national trend, with gas prices soaring more than 50% since the beginning of the year, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Nationwide prices today, on average $2.59 a gallon for regular, though, are still much lower than last summer, when a gallon reached an all-time high of $4.11 on July 17.