By Darren Lyn
HOUSTON, United States (AA) - Americans are pinching pennies to make ends meet during this period of skyrocketing inflation.
"It's kind of a new world, the post-pandemic world, we're back out there and it's a whole different world when it comes to prices," said video producer Jason Walker from Austin, Texas.
Since the start of 2022, the rate of inflation has hovered between 8% and 9%, hitting its peak during the summer months when the national average for gas was more than $5 a gallon.
Walker told Anadolu Agency that is when inflation hit him in the face.
"That was really rough because I was traveling on the road a lot," he said. "I learned that the gas pump will turn itself off at 100 dollars. I never knew that until this summer. I used to fill up my tank with $60."
"Gas is one of those things that you cannot not buy," he said. "It's something you have to have."
Although gas prices have come down a bit, he said it still costs a pretty penny to fill up his vehicle.
"I still spend about $70 to $80, but that's still expensive compared to how it used to be."
Walker is married and has a 19-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter. That makes shopping for the family a lot more challenging.
"What I try to do is put together a shopping list and a budget and I go to the grocery store and try to make those two things work together and sometimes they don't," he said. "I have certainly started looking for generic brands much more than I ever have but sometimes there are things on the list that I just don't get because they stretch my budget too far. And the last thing I want to do is pay for inflation with my credit cards because that costs even more. Then I'm paying 17 to 20% interest to pay for inflation."
"The days of a dozen eggs for 99 cents are gone, the days of $2 per gallon for gas are gone," said Walker. "Eggs are now $2.50 a dozen largely because of the higher cost of gas which the trucks use to transport the eggs. Getting the eggs to the store costs more now."
To help make ends meet, Walker has started working for Uber Eats in his spare time.
"I think we've entered the world of the side hustle. Everyone has a side hustle, everyone has a side job," he said. "To fill the gap between where the paycheck ends and inflation begins."
"The high prices are the new norm," said Isaias Degollado from Houston, who is married and has a 12-year-old daughter.
Degollado told Anadolu Agency that his monthly budget for groceries used to be between $800 and $1,000 before the inflation spike but he now caps monthly spending at $850.
"For what we used to get for that amount, we get about two-thirds of that now and that's just the essentials: milk, eggs, butter, bread, juice, tuna," he said. "As for new brands of chips or chocolate bars or foods that we sample, those items are pretty much nonexistent now. We don't do that anymore. We don't try new items or splurge on snacks. We buy what's on sale and see what items we can do without."
"The coffee I used to buy for six bucks went up $3 and now costs nine bucks," said Degollado, who is a high school music teacher. "So, I'll stock up when it goes on sale and when it goes down to that $6 price again, I buy two or three packages."
Degollado said his family used to buy organic ground beef for $9 per pound but prices are too high now.
"That same package of meat now costs 15 bucks, so we don't buy that anymore," he said. "We now buy pre-packaged chicken that's already cooked because it costs less -- seven or eight bucks for a family package -- so we can eat that chicken for at least a couple of days.”
Degollado said the cost for all goods and services has gone up considerably, including his electricity bill which has skyrocketed.
"The big shocker came when we changed our electricity provider after we moved," he said. "We used to pay 11.2 cents per kilowatt hour. The new plan cost 25 cents per kilowatt hour -- more than double -- so I shopped around for a cheaper plan for 17 cents per kilowatt hour, but that's still more expensive."
"I feel like I have to give up or sacrifice some things because of the expensive prices," said Christian Campos, who said inflation has hurt his wallet tremendously.
"Yes, it makes life more difficult because I have a budget," the landscaper from Houston told Anadolu Agency. "So, when I go to the grocery store to buy food, I now have to make choices."
"I have a limit on the price that I'm going to spend when I go shopping for food," he said. "But it makes things a little bit harder when prices are higher than you expect them to be."
Campos said he has been hit by sticker shock with the prices of many items doubling or even tripling, which means he has to make strategic choices about what to buy.
"I feel like I have to give up or sacrifice some things because of the expensive prices," he said. "And even though I want to stick to my budget, if I really want to buy something, I just bite the bullet and get it even if it costs more. But that also means I have less money in my pocket once I'm finished shopping."
Like many Americans, Campos is holding out hope that inflation will taper off.
"I truly believe the prices will eventually go back down," said Campos. "Maybe in six or seven months."
"This a new tier of prices," said Degollado. "They may go down a bit, but not to where they were before."
"I think it will get better, but I don't think it will be soon," said Walker. "I think it will be another year at least before prices go back down."