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Post: Retirement Weekly: Inflation is real — 3 ways to stretch your dollars

If it seems like prices are rising every day, that’s because they really are. In fact, March’s Consumer Price Index saw inflation hit a new 40-year record of 8.5%, beating February’s high.

And as inflation goes up, so does the cost of living. Today it costs more to maintain the lifestyle that you’re used to, even if your habits stay exactly the same. No wonder a recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that almost 9 in 10 Americans now list inflation as their top source of stress.

Your first thought may not be to turn to your workplace for additional personal financial support, but your employer may be well positioned as a resource. In fact, eight in 10 employers either have a financial wellness program or are actively implementing one—and financial wellness benefits can help empower you financially even with inflation riding high.

If you’re wondering what you can do to make your dollar go farther, let’s talk through three ways your workplace benefits may be able to help you deal with the effects of inflation on your finances.

1. Use your employer-sponsored financial wellness benefits

Check with your employer for benefits that can help you better organize your finances and tackle the challenge of inflation.

For example, a workplace financial wellness program can offer access to one-on-one financial coaching or financial planning services, where you can create a personalized budget or a goals-based plan not just for your everyday expenses, but also for your long-term vision for your life. A planning tool or a professional might be able to help you identify areas to cut back, save more, or change habits to help you get through tight times like these.

And don’t forget about retirement: While you may not feel like you have any wiggle room to save for the future right now, making the most of any employer matching or workplace benefits is a sure way to kick-start your savings and compound your retirement account’s growth through any matching contributions.

2. Address your debt

It can be tough to think about managing debt when you’re struggling simply to make ends meet day to day, but because interest is so expensive, especially if you have variable rates—and getting more expensive as prices rise—getting your debt under control in the short run can really help you save over time.

Start by figuring out the total amount of debt you owe, the interest rate you’re paying on each debt item, and the minimum payment due for every debt obligation. Then, construct a plan to crunch it down—maybe starting with the highest interest rate or the lowest balance.

If you have student debt, reach out to your employer to see if they offer any workplace benefits that can help you. For example, the CARES Act allows employers to pay up to $5,250 toward student loans on behalf of employees, and the employees would not owe US federal income taxes on the payments.

Two final thoughts: If you are having great difficulty managing your debt or are overwhelmed by it, consider debt counseling. Many companies offer debt counseling services through their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a financial wellness provider, where you can work with counselors to figure out a debt management plan. And lastly, don’t forget to include your debt payments and debt management planning in your budget!

3. Look for discounts and workarounds

A classic way to counter rising prices is to search out discounts and coupons for everyday items. Need new clothes? Try the clearance rack or secondhand. Grocery shopping? Clip coupons or buy in bulk. Commuting? Try an old-fashioned carpool with neighbors or public transit. Bargain hunting may not sound glamorous, but it can become a fun—and, more important, fruitful—way to stretch your dollar farther.

And again, you likely don’t have to do all the legwork yourself. Many employers are offering their employees price breaks through their financial wellness programs—in fact, according to the EBRI 2021 Employer Financial Wellbeing Survey, 50% of employers offer discounts programs. You might be surprised by what is available, whether it’s exclusive rates on monthly subscription services, medical or prescription discounts, or price cuts at popular brands.

From going to the grocery store to filling up your gas tank, we are all feeling the squeeze from inflation. So just remember that inflation makes it all the more important to adopt sound personal finance practices around budgeting, prioritizing, investing, and saving—and your employer-provided workplace benefits may be able to help you. Tightening the belt is never fun, but your workplace benefits may be able to help support you weather the inflation storm.

Krystal Barker Buissereth is managing director & head of financial wellness, Morgan Stanley at Work

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