How to survive inflation and save money for a car, home and other big purchases
It hasn’t been an easy couple of months for savers.
At the height of the pandemic in April 2020, Americans’ personal savings rate – the portion of monthly income that households are socking away – hit a record 33.8%. Now that rate hovers around 6.4%, which is below pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
This comes as inflation is at a 40-year record high, eating into potential savings. People trying to set aside money for big-ticket purchases, such as a car or a home, may find that it’s a pipe dream when they’re struggling to afford the cost of everyday necessities.
But “even though it is harder now to plan for making big purchases, there are still strategies you can use to achieve your goals,” said Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet.
To combat inflation, for the first time in three years the Federal Reserve raised interest rates by a quarter-percentage point on Wednesday. The central bank also forecast six additional rate hikes this year.
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That should help clamp down on inflation as time goes on, but Americans aren’t going to see prices come down in the near future, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said.
“We still expect inflation to be high this year,” he said, but it will be “lower than last year,” when the annual rate went above 5%. The war in Ukraine is also putting more pressure on inflation as Americans contend with high gas prices, Powell said during a press conference Wednesday.
In the meantime, the Fed’s rate hike means that Americans will be paying higher credit card, mortgage and loan rates.
More than 93% of U.S. workers have their paychecks deposited directly into bank accounts, according to a 2020 survey of more than 33,000 workers conducted by the American Payroll Association.
Instead of having the entirety of your paycheck direct deposited into one account, consider opening a savings account (if you don’t already have one) and automatically have a portion of your pay set aside. This way you won't be tempted to use the money for your other purchases, especially if your credit card is linked to a different bank account.
“The upside of rising interest rates is that there are going to be a lot of high-yield savings accounts available, so you can actually earn a little bit of money from putting money in those accounts,” said Colleen McCreary, a consumer financial advocate and executive at Credit Karma.
Timing is everything – when is the best time to buy a car?
When you think about the big purchase you’re aiming to make, it’s also important to pinpoint the best time of year to get a better discount, said Palmer.
For instance, the best time to buy a car tends to be toward the end of each month when dealers are pressed to achieve monthly sales quotas, according to Edmunds, a site that tracks car prices. If you can hold out to the end of the year, you’ll see the highest average monthly discounts on cars, according to Edmunds data.
Analyze your budget – where else can you save?
Look at your credit card bill from last month. Don’t simply glance at what you paid. Really comb through every expense, especially automatic charges to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, said McCreary.
“Ask yourself: ‘Do I really need these things?’ and look to make cuts in some of those places,” she said.
It’s also worthwhile trying to negotiate rates with your cellphone and cable provider. “Consumers actually have a lot more power than they tend to think about that,” McCreary said. And when you go food shopping, make a list ahead of time so you don’t find yourself wandering around aisles buying more than you intended, she added.
Work on improving your credit score
One of the best ways to save money on a loan is to improve your credit score, said Palmer.
That’s because the interest rate you pay on loans is largely a function of your credit score, which indicates the likelihood you’ll make loan payments on time based on your payment history, debt and other key financial information.
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Credit scores range from 300 to 850, with scores above 800 considered “exceptional” by credit rating agency Experian. The average American credit score currently hovers at a record high of 714.
Having a high credit score usually means you’ll be offered a loan with a lower interest rate compared to someone with a lower score.
During the pandemic, many Americans started to see significant improvements in their credit scores. This came as the economy was slowed and Americans received stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits. That enabled consumers to build their savings and pay off credit card debt, which in turn helped boost credit scores.
To continue building your credit score, be sure to make any existing loan and credit card payments on time, NerdWallet's Palmer told USA TODAY.
And if you’re not sure what your credit score is head to annualcreditreport.com, where you can get a free weekly report. Typically, these reports are free only once a year, but the three major credit reporting agencies are providing free weekly reports through April 2022.