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A day-in-the-life challenge with inflation

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Inflation - it seemed to invade every waking moment of 2022. But really, just how bad was it? Well, let's find out with NPR's Alina Selyukh and Stacey Vanek Smith.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Rise and shine and pay more. Every day you wake up, everything is a little more expensive, right, Stacey?

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Alina, that is so bleak. Things are not that bad. There are plenty of prices that have also gone down.

SELYUKH: Oh, like what? - crypto?

VANEK SMITH: Well, yes, crypto, but a lot of other things, too. In fact, I challenge you, Alina. Let's walk through a typical day, look at how many prices have risen and how many prices have fallen and actually see what we're looking at here. And loser buys the winner a drink.

SELYUKH: Ooh. You are on for that. OK. Let's start with a good place to start - breakfast.

(SOUNDBITE OF COFFEE POURING)

SELYUKH: My day obviously starts with this delicious coffee, which is 15% more expensive than last year. We can make some eggs.

(SOUNDBITE OF EGGS SIZZLING)

SELYUKH: They are 49% more expensive. It's one of the biggest jumps out there because of a massive bird flu outbreak.

VANEK SMITH: OK, good point. But I start my day with avocado toast.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNIFE SCRAPING TOAST)

VANEK SMITH: Avocados have gotten almost 45% cheaper because there was a big bumper crop. And, you know, they are a superfood.

(SOUNDBITE OF BACON SIZZLING)

VANEK SMITH: Also, bacon, which is not technically a superfood but is super, got a little bit cheaper, too. It's a good breakfast.

SELYUKH: No coffee for you - really?

VANEK SMITH: Well, I have been meaning to cut back on caffeine. And rising prices feels like the perfect opportunity to make that happen. You know what you could call this, Alina, is an inflationtunity (ph).

SELYUKH: I will not be calling it that. Moving on from breakfast - time for work.

VANEK SMITH: Well, I'm really glad you said that because...

(SOUNDBITE OF COAT ZIPPING)

VANEK SMITH: ...I am now zipping up my warm winter coat, which is 2% less expensive than it was last year. And I'm heading out to the car to drive to work. And speaking of cars, Alina, used cars got 3% less expensive because the extreme shortage of used cars kind of started to sort itself out.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOOR SLAMMING)

SELYUKH: All right. All right. What about the gas for this car?

VANEK SMITH: Well, gas has been declining.

SELYUKH: Sure - but at the moment, still 10% more expensive than last year.

VANEK SMITH: Which just gives us all a great excuse to take public transportation.

SELYUKH: That's 24% more expensive than last year.

VANEK SMITH: Well, wait; you're working from home, right? I mean, that's saving you time and money.

SELYUKH: I am working from home. And in fact, I'm sending you an email right now which says electricity, Stacey, costs 14% more this year.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) OK. Well, I'm messaging you back to remind you that America got a raise this year - more than 5%.

SELYUKH: Sure, wages did grow, but if you account for inflation, we actually got a pay cut of almost 2%.

VANEK SMITH: That is true, but that's a general number. Some people did get bigger raises than that. And anyway, you know, it can be a good moment to rethink our work-life balance. Maybe we start clocking out when we're supposed to and go spend time with friends and our families.

SELYUKH: And do what exactly? Going out is so much more expensive this year. Restaurant prices are up because of all kinds of costs - wages and food.

VANEK SMITH: OK. Well, you could just come on over, Alina. Come over to my place, and we'll hang out - home sweet home.

SELYUKH: You know what's not sweet? Rent increases - up 7% this year.

VANEK SMITH: Rent did not go up everywhere. There were definitely some places where rent went down.

SELYUKH: Like which places?

VANEK SMITH: Like the metaverse. Apparently, rent went down in...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: This is the dimension of imagination.

VANEK SMITH: ...The metaverse.

SELYUKH: The metaverse.

VANEK SMITH: Yes. OK. Well, maybe we've been looking at data for too long.

SELYUKH: I hate to say it, Stacey. I think you owe me a drink.

VANEK SMITH: OK, well, let's - we can go - we should just go get a drink. Let's all agree to that. Let's just go get a drink. We can go to happy hour.

SELYUKH: Stacey, happy hour costs 7% more now.

VANEK SMITH: Alina, you cannot - don't take the happy out of happy hour right now.

SELYUKH: I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

VANEK SMITH: I forgive you, Alina, because do you know something that is priceless?

SELYUKH: Oh, I feel like you're going to say friendship. Is it friendship?

VANEK SMITH: No.

SELYUKH: Oh, it's friendship.

VANEK SMITH: Yes.

SELYUKH: Yes.

VANEK SMITH: Yes.

SELYUKH: It's friendship.

VANEK SMITH: I was going to say friendship.

SELYUKH: It's friendship.

VANEK SMITH: We're doing it.

SELYUKH: The winner is friendship.

VANEK SMITH: You can't put a price on it.

Stacey Vanek Smith.

SELYUKH: Alina Selyukh, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.