Ever look at a bill you received and see some charge that you weren’t told about or a higher fee than what you expected? If yes, and most of us have, then by some definitions that makes you a victim of stealth inflation. However there is nothing stealthy about it when it hits you.
Before getting into the main types of stealth inflation, readers should beware of major pending changes in ATM charges. For example, Chase recently announced it’s testing increasing its out-of-network fees to five dollars per transaction and you can bet other financial institutions are looking at other ways to charge you more to access your money.
There are other types of inflation that consumers don’t see unless they look very carefully. These are the types of stealth inflation discussed below and most consumers never realize what happened until long after the purchase.
►One type of inflation occurs when prices are kept stable, no fees are added or increased, but the price still effectively increases. For some months now in stores around Columbus and elsewhere, Tropicana orange juice has been selling its 59 ounce cartons at the same price it previously sold the still industry standard 64 ounce container. (64 ounces is a half gallon.) One has to look hard at the Tropicana cartons because all the proportions and packaging look very similar to what was used when Tropicana sold the 64 ounce cartons. Now the quantity is reduced five ounces which is an over 7.8 percent increase in price. Even in some stores where the prices dropped a bit on the 59 ounce version, the per ounce cost is still higher than with the 64 ounce containers.
Aldi’s (at least in the Columbus area) sells its Willow brand toilet paper for the same low price as before. The only problem is that the rolls are 3/16 of an inch (.1875 of an inch) narrower. This is almost imperceptible when looking at the toilet paper in the store. Oddly enough the difference became clear when one looks at the amount of the toilet paper roller that is exposed on the dispenser. This amounts to a 4.44 percent price increase.
About 18 months ago, before this Examiner started writing this column, he called Star Kist Tuna about having reduced the size of their cans from 6 ounces to five ounces. There was no change in price but Star Kist effectively raised the price over 16 percent. During the conversation with Star Kist, their phone representative said “It’s not as bad as that…most cans get more than five ounces and prices have not been raised in a long time.” It’s true Star Kist chunk light five ounce (nee’ six ounce) cans have remained remarkable stable in price for some years. The point is the deception in this. For example, the size of the package and the packaging look virtually the same for five and six ounce cans. But the definition of a serving was changed to fit the size of the package.
►A second type of stealth inflation is when manufacturers reduce the quality of the materials (including ingredients in food and drug store items) used or reduces efforts at quality control. Without being an expert, it’s virtually impossible to prove this type of cost cutting. Despite certain laws in the U.S. and elsewhere designed to prevent such practices (e.g.; The Good_manufacturing_practice Act), it’s naive to assume everything we buy was manufactured in strict compliance.
The best defense against this kind of stealth inflation is to always be an alert and careful shopper.