Hunkered Down

With the east coast recovering from the overnight devastation of Hurricane Sandy, I have much compassion for residents’ plight. Prior to moving to Houston in 1998, I seldom thought about hurricanes. Since then we’ve dealt with three massive storms.

In June 2000, Tropical Storm Allison stalled and dumped 35 inches of rain – flooding downtown and a major highway. The only non-hurricane to have its name retired did an estimated $5.5 billion in damage.

In September 2005, just four weeks after Katrina devastated Louisiana, Cat 3 Rita took dead aim at Houston, then veered off to the east at the last minute. Two days prior, we were part of the largest evacuation in US history – three million people. Our normal four-hour journey to Dallas took 12. Friends left an hour after us and were in their car for 20 hours. We came home when the power returned five days later… and everything looked the same.

From 2-8 a.m. on the early morning of September 13, 2008, our family and dog gathered in a small interior bathroom to ride out Hurricane Ike. When it passed, I walked into the cul de sac to speak with neighbors, happy all seemed well. They pointed behind me to the home next to ours. It was split in half by a fallen tree. Rain returned a few hours later and ruined the house. The residents didn’t return for 14 months. In all, Ike left 2.3 million people without power… for up to three weeks. It caused $19.3 billion in destruction.

Hurricanes are one of nature’s most brutal forces. Without experiencing the fear, flooding and feelings of those involved, it’s hard to have sympathy – despite seeing the sad pictures on the news today. Thousands of your fellow citizens are dealing with a tremendous burden. Spare a moment to think of them. If you’re a believer, say a prayer. If you have spare dollars, send a few their way via Red Cross. Someday, you may be in need of a similar act of kindness. When you are, someone will be there. This is a great opportunity to pay it forward.


Figure This

During our Florida trip a few weeks ago, we stayed at a condo near Melbourne with a beautiful view of the Atlantic. Of course, since we commuted four times that week back to Orlando to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, our beach time was limited. Time on the road, however, was lengthy – 72 miles each way. We filled up the car three times in eight days. (I didn’t realize until after our return the Jeep Patriot we rented averages less than 20 miles per gallon on the highway. Ouch!)

On vacation I typically don’t pay attention to what’s happening in the world; however, I knew something was up just by watching gas prices at the same station climb from $3.49 the day we arrived to $3.65 when we departed. I found out later oil rose while we were hanging out with Mickey & Friends.

It’s interesting how government accounting works. The Consumer Price Index is a ‘market basket’ of 80,000 goods the government measures each month to determine inflation. The ‘core inflation rate’ – which you most often hear quoted and the one the Fed uses to determine monetary policy – excludes food and energy prices. That will forever strike me as strange, since you spend a lot of your earnings on food and energy.

From 1914-2012, inflation averaged 3.4 percent in this country. Of course, there were plenty of years higher and many lower. Last month, the CPI was 1.4 percent. That’s darn near nothing.

Except… consider the ever-shrinking size of consumer goods. Bought toilet paper lately? How about ice cream? Potato chips? Noticed anything about the portions? They keep getting smaller and smaller and smaller. The staple of my diet cereal is a perfect example of figures lying. Prices haven’t changed for my Golden Grahams, but the box is now ‘Net Wt 12 Oz’ and much much smaller than five years ago.

The government is right. Prices aren’t rising. For reality, though, they might want to start measuring CPA: the Consumer Pocketbook Amount.