If you have read the papers or you go online frequently you will no doubt have heard of the consumer price index. But do you actually know what it is? This index has a real purpose and once you understand what it is you will see why it is so frequently used. Basically speaking, the index is a measure of how much certain items cost to buy. The items which are in this virtual ‘basket’ change on occasion to reflect the most accurate general type of goods we buy.
For example if you compare the contents of the consumer price index today to the contents as they were in the 1950s, you will find they are very different. This is because life has changed a lot since then and some items have fallen out of favor while others are more popular and are bought regularly.
The index is frequently updated and published to give the person in the street an idea of how far their money will take them at present. It is updated every month and is widely available to access. When you look at what is included in this basket though, you will see that it isn’t all about what you can actually buy and fit in there. The term is relative, and some regularly bought items such as services (water services for example) are also in there.
Now obviously we would like to see the cost of items go down as well as up. But whichever way they go if they travel too far in one direction it isn’t good news. The index itself tells us a lot about inflation – the more the prices go up, the higher inflation is. And if they go down by a long way, this is called deflation. So the next time you hear about inflation or deflation having an effect on the economy, think about this index of prices. If you take a look at it you will see that the prices will have gone up or down respectively.
The history of the index stretches right back to the First World War, so as you can imagine the items included in there today are very different. But the purpose remains the same – the consumer price index tells us how far our money will stretch in today’s climate. And as such it is the best way to keep an eye on what inflation is doing.