A green balloon with a dollar sign on it being blown up by a hand pump

For consumers, the latest economic data only confirms what they already knew: Prices for many essential goods have risen sharply in recent weeks.

The government reported Tuesday that the Consumer Price Index rose 0.6 percent in March, the fastest monthly increase in almost a decade. The jump follows months of flat or declining prices as the economy slumped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the biggest factors driving the growth in inflation is a sharp jump in gas prices, which rose 9.1 percent, says Diane Swonk, chief economist at accounting and tax advisory firm Grant Thornton.

But price increases were also found among a large range of categories, including food and major appliances. Even so, prices in other categories remained relatively flat or even dipped.

Inflation is likely to move higher in the next few months as the economy recovers and demand picks up, says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. Shortages for some items, due to pandemic-related production issues, will also move prices higher.

More on Ways to Save

Still, food and energy prices fluctuate month to month, and the recent surge is likely to be temporary. Overall inflation is likely to average 2 percent, considered by many to be a normal inflation rate, by this time next year, Zandi says.

Of course, even normal inflation will be a change from the flat prices of the pandemic. And for some products and services, consumers may face significantly higher costs. Here’s the outlook for six key categories and tips on how to manage those costs.

Energy

Retail gas prices have jumped $1 per gallon on average over the past year, to $2.85, triggered by surging demand starting late last year, as more motorists hit the road, according to Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, a website and smartphone app that helps drivers find the best deals.

The good news is that the biggest price increases may have already happened, DeHaan says, as oil companies have stepped up gas production. Even so, prices are likely to remain higher as the economic growth resumes.

If you’re planning a long road trip, consider that you may pay significantly more if you cross state lines to a location with higher gas taxes, DeHaan says. Make sure to check gas prices ahead of time.

If you’re shopping for a new car, take fuel efficiency into account. (For more on car shopping, see below.)

Food

Although food costs climbed 0.6 percent in March, some products showed steeper price increases than others.

For example, prices for uncooked ground beef rose almost 2 percent, while costs for cheese and related products fell 0.1 percent.

Similarly, costs for fresh potatoes jumped 3.4 percent, even as the price for fresh apples rose only 0.4 percent.

To stay on budget, compare costs and substitute for cheaper ingredients where possible. Make sure you’re on the list to receive sale notifications from your local stores, and focus on private label goods, which are often less expensive.

Major Appliances

Production and supply chain slowdowns during the pandemic have led to a major appliance shortage. That has pushed prices up sharply for some types, such as washing machines, ranges, and refrigerators.

While prices will eventually stabilize as the pandemic eases and supply returns, you aren’t likely to see big discounts anytime soon, says Nish Suvarnakar, senior market analyst at Consumer Reports.

Before you shop, make sure you figure out which appliance features you must have vs. those that are less essential, Survarnakar says. Be sure to comparison shop at independent retailers, not just big-box stores, which may offer comparable bargains and perhaps better service.  

Telecom and Internet Services

In recent months, telecom consumers have had a bit of a break, with prices for telephone and wireless services dipping slightly in March, according to the government, while internet provider costs rose 1 percent.

This follows pledges by some providers last year to suspend data caps and provide other consumer breaks during the pandemic. But now many internet providers are starting to hike prices once again.

To keep a lid on those costs, you can look to switch to a low-cost cellular phone plan. And trim your internet costs with these tips on cutting the cord.

Cars

While overall prices for new cars and trucks have remained relatively flat, the price of individual models varies widely. Lower-end models have tended to fall in price, while costs for high-end models have climbed, recent Consumer Reports research found.

To avoid breaking your budget, focus on the most affordable car models—you can find good options for $25,000 or less. And watch out for add-on costs, particularly destination fees, which can add hundreds of dollars to the sticker price. 

Televisions

Consumers have enjoyed a break on TV prices in recent months, with costs staying relatively flat, according to the latest inflation data.

Still, if you don’t need a new TV right away, it may be worth waiting a few months to shop.

“The best time to buy TVs tends to be between fall and early winter, because of holiday sales and the release of new models in January,” says Samantha Gordon, deals editor at Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports members can find more details about the best time to buy a wide range of products by using CR’s Best Time to Buy guide

Determined shoppers can also grab deals on TVs and other items during Amazon’s Prime Day event, which is expected to happen during the summer, Gordon says.