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Higher food, housing, and transport prices continue to push up living costs 

Last month saw a continued rise in the cost of essential needs like housing and meals, putting strain on budgets. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), according to the Labor Department, unexpectedly surged by 0.4% over August, intensifying the financial burden.

Over the past year, the CPI has increased by 3.7%, echoing the previous month’s rate. Certain consumer expenditures proved to be particularly burdensome. Housing costs constituted more than half of the monthly all-items increase, making shelter a major contributor. Additionally, the rising gasoline index significantly impacted the overall monthly increase. While the energy index had mixed results in September, it still saw a 1.5% rise.

In September, the food index went up by 0.2%, maintaining the same increase as the previous two months. However, there was a noticeable discrepancy between grocery costs and dining out expenses. Food at home experienced a 0.1% increase for the month, whereas food away from home rose by 0.4%.

Transportation costs also continued to escalate overall. Not only did gasoline prices increase by 2.1%, but the expenses related to vehicle maintenance and repairs saw a multi-month upward trend. Car and truck maintenance costs increased by 10.0% last month, and vehicle insurance costs surged by almost 19%.

On a positive note for consumers, air travel became more affordable, with airfares dropping by 13.4% in September. However, finding affordable living arrangements became increasingly challenging, with rents and associated costs spiking by 7.4% during the same month. 

Homeowners didn’t fare much better, as owners’ equivalent of rent costs increased by 7.1%. Among food expenses, dairy and related products were the only category to experience a price drop in September, decreasing by 0.2%. Consumers relying on natural gas also saw relief, with prices plummeting by 19.1% from August.

Although the prices of used cars and trucks dropped by another 8% last month, they remained significantly higher than their pre-pandemic levels. A prolonged auto workers’ strike could potentially reverse this consumer-friendly trend in the upcoming months.

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