It's an unfortunate and uncomfortable truth to go with all the other unfortunate and uncomfortable truths we're living with. Life has gotten more expensive -- a lot more expensive -- since the beginning of the pandemic in March. So not only are folks having a tougher time making ends meet, they're also dealing with inflationary pricing.
According to data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, food prices have surged quite a bit. Overall meat and poultry prices have increased by 11% in the first half of the year. If you like beef or veal, you're seeing a 20% price increase overall.
I did three separate lists, one that was very budget-minded, one that was a bit more expensive, and one that I qualified as "best" gear, but still within reason for those with more money to spend or a bigger work-at-home allowance from their employers.
Across those three articles, I listed 34 home office products ranging from desks and chairs to monitors and printers.
Last week, my editors asked me to update those articles, and -- no surprise -- pricing went up for a lot of items. I went through all 34 items in the three articles and published both the March price and the August price.
In doing so, I realized we could take away some interesting insights from that exercise.
This chart is a good place to start. It shows the overall increase in pricing across the 34 products I previously profiled.
As you can see, pricing went up a total of 17%. If you were to buy everything on all three lists, your cost would balloon from about $8,400 to $10,200. While you're unlikely to buy all the items listed, a nearly $2,000 jump in just over four months isn't inconsiderable.
Price increases by expense level
One thing I found interesting was that prices did not increase across the board. There were a few products that stayed at the same price, and even a few that declined. But, as the following chart shows, the lion's share of products went up in price.
Now, here's where we start seeing some disturbing socioeconomic indicators. Of the price increases, our budget pricing list had more products with increased prices.
Of all the price increases, 40% took place on our budget list. There was a 36% increase on our medium-level list. But here's that disturbing indicator: only 24% of products with price increases were on the "best" list. So the pandemic is perpetuating an unfair truth of our modern times: if you can afford to buy the best, you won't experience as much price-increase pain.
In the next chart, we take another look at this phenomenon, but instead of the number of products, we're measuring the overall cost.
As you can see, while the overall spend for the budget items went up 26% in real dollars, the increase for the more premium products went up by only 16% -- and most of that was due to a thousand dollar jump in the price of a single desk.
Price increases by product category
Of the 34 products I priced out in March and again in August, about half were what you'd call traditional tech gear (i.e., monitors, keyboards, mics, etc) and about half were what you'd call traditional office gear (desk, chair, etc).
Here's how those two categories fared when compared against each other across the 34 sample items.
As you can see, even though the total spend was almost the same, the tech gear went up only 8%. It's the office gear that got the biggest boom, a whopping 25% increase from March to August.
One thing I noticed was that while some tech products didn't go up in price, monitors seemed to have a big surge, as did printers. This makes sense as people move from just dabbling with work stuff at home to spending a full work day in front of a screen at home.
As you can see, the monitors we looked at went up 17%, while the printers increased by 13%.
Price increases like this are scary. If we're seeing 10-20% price increases across the board in just a few months -- from food to office furniture to tech gear - what will life be like in a year or two?
The good news is we're not in hyper-inflation. Hyper-inflation is defined as super-rapid inflation, usually of 50% or more per month. But the news is far from good. At this rate, we could well expect to see all goods costing double what they did before the pandemic in just a year or two.
With so many out of work and so many more under-employed, inflation (even if it's not hyper) is going to be difficult to take. And, of course, as we all tighten our belts, we'll be contributing less and less to the economy, which will continue to feel the pain.
So, is there a light at the end of the tunnel? I like to think of myself as something of an optimist (no, really, I do!), but I don't know. As the great oracle, the Magic 8-Ball says, "Cannot predict now." Check back with me in a year or two and I might have a better answer for you.
Have you noticed any wacky or disturbing price increases, or are prices holding steady where you are? Let us know in the comments below.