Quiz: How inflation affected the price of common consumer goods

Inflation is a mind game. If Americans expect prices to rise rapidly, they act in ways that drive prices even higher, buying more and demanding steeper raises.

But expectations about inflation don’t always match the evidence. In this quiz, you’ll see for yourself by estimating how the prices of 10 everyday items have changed over the past two years. Overall prices are up 6.1% since June 2019, but that isn’t the case for every item.

Inflation is typically measured annually, and many items have become more expensive in the past year. But annual comparisons are misleading right now. A year ago, the economy was reeling from a global pandemic, and the prices of many items had plummeted. Instead, we’ll ask you about the prices of items in June 2019, a more typical year.

See how well you know inflation and how you compare with other readers.

In June 2021, a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline cost an average of $3.15. How much did it cost in June 2019?

In June 2021, a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts cost an average of $3.35. How much did it cost in June 2019?

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In June 2021, typical monthly rent across the country cost $1,799. How much did it cost in June 2019?

In June 2021, a pound of ground beef cost an average of $4.87. How much did it cost in June 2019?

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This summer, a popular men’s suit jacket cost $230 on a top ecommerce website. How much did it cost in June 2019, if it followed the same national price trend of men’s suits, sport coats and outerwear?

In June 2021, a domestic flight cost an average of $325. How much did it cost in June 2019?

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In spring 2021, a used car cost an average of $22,533. How much did it cost in June 2019?

This summer, a popular small couch cost $392 on a top ecommerce website. How much did it cost in June 2019, if it followed the same national price trend of living room, dining room and kitchen furniture?

In June 2021, a household electric bill cost an average of $126. How much did it cost in June 2019?

This summer, a popular mountain bike cost $710 on a top ecommerce website. How much did it cost in June 2019, if it followed the same national price trend of sports vehicles (including bicycles)?

Overall, prices grew 6.1% in the past two years. In the past year alone, prices grew 5.4%, albeit from an unusually low mid-pandemic base. But workers’ purchasing power increased even faster. Average hourly earnings for nonmanagerial employees grew 9.4 percent over that same period.

The Federal Reserve expects prices to rise 3.4 percent in 2021, but says that growth will slow to 2.1 percent in the following year and settle near its 2.0 percent target in the longer term.

But forecasting inflation is difficult, and nobody, including the Fed, has a great track record. If this year’s price surge persuades people like you to change their buying and investing behavior, that could force the Fed to take aggressive action to slow the economy and ratchet down our expectations.

Kevin Schaul, Peter Andringa and Erik Reyna contributed to this report.

About this story

Inflation rates are based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index (CPI). June 2021 prices for gasoline, electricity, chicken and beef are from CPI average price data.

In the case of electricity, the average price per kilowatt-hour was multiplied by the average energy consumption of U.S. residences in 2019, the most recent data available from the Energy Information Administration.

Monthly rent is based on the June 2021 Zillow Observed Rent Index. The average cost of a used car is based on the most recent available sales data from CarMax, covering March to May 2021. The average cost of airfare was calculated by applying the two-year inflation rate to the average cost of a domestic flight in June 2019, as per the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Prices for a suit jacket, mountain bike and couch are based on the best-selling item from major online retailers on July 10, 2021.

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